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APOSTLE 

OF SIGHT 


The story of Victor Rambo, 
surgeon to India’s blind 


Dorothy Clarke 

WILSON 


APOSTLE 
OF SIGHT 

DOROTHY CLARKE WILSON 


Throughout more than fifty years of dedicated 
service Dr. Rambo marched to the sound of two 
trumpets — the call to medical service and the 
summons to lead people to new life in Christ. 

When he came to India, Dr. Rambo found that 
millions lost their sight through infections 
brought on by lack of sanitation, by ignorance 
and by extreme poverty. He discovered that 
three fourths of these blind are curable — and 
he set about tackling the Herculean task of re¬ 
storing their sight with the vigor of a spiritual 
giant, the imagination of an impossible dreamer, 
and the courage of an incorrigible individualist. 

He inaugurated mobile eye clinics, mobile hospi 
tals, and he has personally performed more than 
40,000 cataract operations — in the process 
leaving a permanent imprint on the treatment 
of the blind in India. 

Apostle of Sight is a fascinating look at this 
(Joctor minister to millions. This is a book you’ll 
treasure for yourself and want to share with 
neighbors — a thrilling true history which no 
fiction could approach. 


(continued on back flap) 











Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2010 


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APOSTLE 
OF SIGHT 









APOSTLE 
OF SIGHT 

Dorothy Clarke 

WILSON 


CHRISTIAN HERALD BOOKS 

Chappaqua, New York 10514 


Copyright © 1980 by Dorothy Clarke Wilson 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any 
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or 
any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing 
from the publisher, CHRISTIAN HERALD BOOKS, 40 Overlook Drive, Chap- 
paqua. New York 10514. Manufactured in the United States of America. 


Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. 

Apostle of sight. 

1. Rambo, Victor. 2. Ophthalmologists—United 
States—Biography. 3 Ophthalmologists—India— 
Biography. 4. Christian life—1960- I. Title. 

RE36.R35W54 617.7'0092'4 [B] 79-55678 

ISBN 0-915684-54-3 


Preface 


T he time was a Friday afternoon, the place a large town called 
Vellore in south India. The principal actors were a small group 
of intensely earnest Indians and one curious American. 

I was the American, and mingled with my curiosity was an 
excited and awed expectancy. For I had been invited to observe a 
mobile eye hospital, a modern marvel of healing that in the past 
thirty years has given sight to hundreds of thousands of India s 
blind. 

The cars were being loaded for the trip when I arrived at Schell 
Hospital, the initial unit at which Dr. Ida Scudder, for whose 
biography I had come to India to gather material, started her 
medical work eighty years ago. It was now the eye department of 
one of the largest medical centers in all Asia, supported by nearly 
forty denominational groups in at least ten different countries. 

A trailer was being piled high with dozens of grass mats and 
pillows and huge quantities of food, dressings, musical instru¬ 
ments, gospels printed in Tamil and Telegu, lanterns, oil, and 
medical supplies. 

The team had already begun to gather: two senior doctors, a 
nursing sister, a pharmacist, an evangelist, several medical stu¬ 
dents, four hospital orderlies, and several servants. A cook with 
his helpers and a few other trained workers had already gone 
ahead to organize the camp. 

Dr. Roy Ebenezer, the head of the eye hospital, greeted me 
cordially. "We're going farther than usual this time," he told me, 
"about seventy miles. That's why we're starting earlier." 

Learning that he had already performed eighteen operations in 
the hospital that morning besides superintending the treatment of 
112 inpatients and 120 outpatients, I marveled at his abounding 
energy. I was to marvel at it still more before the next thirty hours 
were over. 

As we traveled along the good tarred road, the driver expertly 

5 


6 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


weaving his way among bullock carts, bicycles, jutkas, laborers 
with huge loads on their heads, goats, monkeys, and ambling 
cattle, I learned more about the drama I was about to witness. 

Eye camps had been started in Vellore ten years before, in 1947, 
by an American surgeon, Dr. Victor Rambo, who had developed 
the concept until it had now become an integral service here as well 
as in other Indian hospitals. It carried the benefits of the eye 
hospital and its operating room to the thousands of villagers who 
needed its services but would have neither the means nor the 
incentive to make the long journey to Vellore. 

Our camp, I learned, had really begun long before this Friday 
afternoon. Ten days earlier a scout had been sent out on a 
motorcycle to explore a needy area within a seventy-five mile 
radius of Vellore. He had sought out some influential citizen, 
perhaps a village head man, who would welcome such a camp and 
offer accommodation. Then had followed a "teller of good news," 
advertising through surrounding villages by printed notices and 
word of mouth—occasionally by beaten tom-toms—that all with 
the poo padcra (cataract) or other eye ailments could come on a 
certain day to a certain place for eye examinations and, if need be, 
operations. 

Already I was feeling a part of the expedition. The young Indian 
doctors and assistants were a jolly group, singing gaily in English 
and Tamil. We might have been a crowd bound on any weekend 
pleasure trip. But as we left the main road I changed my mind. No 
pleasure driver would ever pick a road like this! We bumped and 
swayed and lurched over miles of washboard gravel and rutted 
wheeltrack so narrow that we seemed always about to slip into the 
patchwork squares of brimming rice fields. I gripped the door 
handle, closed my eyes, and listened to my teeth chatter. 

"We're lucky today," said Dr. Ebenezer. "Our village is close to 
the main road. Sometimes we have roads like this all the way." 

I sensed a change of mood and tempo. The holiday spirit had 
given place to one of urgency. Even the doggedly unswerving bus 
seemed alive to its role in a serious mission. 

Our village was an unusually large and prosperous one, with 
pukka houses of whitewashed brick and tile crowding humbler 
dwellings of mud and thatch. The head man, a Brahmin with 
Vishnu's trident scored on his forehead in sandalwood paste and 
saffron, preceded the mob of children who came to meet us. It was 
in a warehouse of his rice mill and groundnut factory that the eye 
camp was being held. When we drove into the mill compound, I 
stared in amazement. At least three hundred people were crowded 
into the small, bare rectangle. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


7 


The trained workers who had arrived earlier had already organ¬ 
ized the camp and conducted preliminary tests. The patients with 
apparent cataracts and other operable ailments had been lined up 
and given chits that entitled them to further examinations. The 
lines, three of them stretching clear across the courtyard, were a 
horde of all ages, from great-grandfathers to babes in arms. All 
were either practically blind or had serious eye disorders. They 
stood as they had been squatting, many of them for long hours— 
passive, patient, and warily hopeful but from bitter experience not 
expectant. 

Dr. Ebenezer took the time to explain, simply and briefly, why 
they were there, saying that they were concerned about people 
because they were Christians, believers in a God of love and in 
Jesus, who had gone about the villages of another country bringing 
light to sightless eyes. The young Indian doctors, a man and a 
woman, took their places at small examination tables. One by one 
the patients came forward and sat on a revolving stool beside one 
of the doctors for their examinations. Each was seen with the 
Swiss, Haag-Streit slit-lamp microscope, and his or her history 
and record was completed. 

There were eyes injured by leaves, straw, and flying tools; eyes 
inflamed with severe conjunctivitis; and many with cataracts, 
some of them in children less than a year old. The examinations 
continued late into the night by the light of gasoline lanterns and 
electric torches. Once Dr. Ebenezer began softly quoting the words 
of an old hymn: 

At even ere the sun was set, 

The sick, O Lord, around thee lay, 

O with what divers pains they met, 

O with what joy they went away! 

"He could cure them completely," said the doctor simply. "They 
went away whole. Man can do only a small part, and then only 
with God's help." 

Sixty-seven people were found who needed operations. With 
tags sewn to their garments telling the needed surgery and the eye 
or eyes to be operated on, these patients were fed a hot meal of rice 
gruel. Then they were settled for the night. 

Late in the evening the team also gathered for supper, sitting on 
grass mats around a square, and, after a Bible reading, praying that 
the work of the following day be blessed. The members of the 
team, including me, hungrily devoured rice and curry from plates 
of big, moist, green leaves of plantain, ending the meal with 



8 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


plantains and coffee. The cook, a versatile performer, was also a 
skilled musician, and the strains of his violin roused a festive spirit 
in the group. 

"But it's not the way it was when Dr. Rambo was with us!" one of 
the young doctors told me. "You should have been here then. On 
evenings like this, before operating days, if he wasn't praying or 
telling stories or leading us in singing, he would probably be out 
there tap dancing, or, as he calls it, 'jigging.' Camps aren't the same 
since he left." 

"Tell me more about him," I begged. "He must be a remarkable 
person to have started all this." 

The young doctor shook her head, smiling. "Remarkable, yes. 
But there's no way to describe him. You have to know him. He's 
just—Dr. Rambo!" 

I felt cheated somehow. A few months earlier and I could have at 
least met this indescribable person who had created the marvel of 
healing I was witnessing. Only that same year had Dr. Rambo left 
Vellore to start a similar work in the Christian College and Hospital 
in the north of India at Ludhiana. 

In the morning, almost as soon as it was light, the team was 
ready for the day's marathon. Two operating tables had been set up 
side by side in the shed, strips of clean canvas shielding them from 
the rusty and badly cracked corrugated ceiling. Every member of 
the team had an assigned task. 

As the patients were led in one by one, each wearing a clean 
white cap, one group performed the prepping, shaving eyebrows 
and cutting lashes, administering penicillin, and doing the nerve 
blocking. Another, presiding efficiently over the hissing Primus 
stoves, handled the sterilized instruments while Dr. Ebenezer and 
his two assistant doctors operated. Still another applied bandages 
and settled the patients on strips of matting placed in rows on the 
earthen floor of the warehouse, a pillow of straw beneath each 
head. With no complications it was possible to perform six opera¬ 
tions in an hour. 

When night fell the team was still at work. Only when the last 
patient had been bandaged and put to bed on his or her mat did the 
concentration of furious activity slacken. There was little singing or 
funmaking on the long ride home. Twelve continuous hours of 
intensely skilled application at the end of a hard week's work had 
exhausted the last ounce of energy. 

But the camp was by no means over. It had barely begun. A cook, 
an ophthalmologic pharmacist-assistant, and four orderlies were 
left behind to care for the convalescents. The two simple daily 
meals of rice porridge supplied by the eye camp through Church 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


9 


World Service were supplemented with food prepared by relatives 
and friends of the patients. An evangelist provided cheer and 
inspiration with songs and stories of the gospel message, accom¬ 
panied by fiddles, tambourines, and drums. On alternate days one 
or more doctors came from Vellore Hospital to visit the patients and 
change the dressings. 

I was with the team when it returned nine days later to remove 
stitches, give temporary glasses, dispense medicines, and, finally, 
close the camp. Watching these final steps, I was almost as wide- 
eyed as the audience of curious village children crowding in the 
doorways, peering through the barred windows. 

I witnessed the excitement as some patients, after their bandages 
were removed and they were given dark eye shades, found that 
they could see dim objects. I saw others, sitting in the midst of 
curious onlookers out in the courtyard, having their eyes tested for 
refraction. 

Then finally came the crowning moments when, blinded a little 
myself by emotion, I saw glasses adjusted to pair after pair of 
recently sightless eyes, saw the lips of young and old burst into 
smiles, the light of joyous discovery dawn in a dozen faces. Whereas 
I was blind , now I can see! 

Do you wonder that all these years since, more than twenty of 
them, I have wanted to write the story of Dr. Victor Rambo, the 
man responsible for thousands of such mobile eye clinics that have 
brought sight to hundreds of thousands of India's curable blind? 








1 


^ ou were born in Landour up in the hills/' his mother told 

«L him, "in the house called Haycroft, on the Tehri road 
toward Gangotri, far enough around the comer of the hill so we 
could see the eternal snows of the Himalayas." 

The boy nodded happily. "Now tell how I got my name." 

"At first we couldn't decide what to call you. We wanted a name 
worthy of the kind of person we hoped you would be, strong, 
never afraid of doing what you knew to be right. It was our fellow 
missionary Josepha Franklin who said, 'Why don't you call him 
Victor?' But I've told you all this before." 

"I know." It was not to hear the details of his birth that the boy 
asked again to hear the story; it was to see the look in her eyes, a 
sort of starry glow, whenever she spoke of his infancy or early 
childhood. It gave him a warm feeling of security, knowing that he 
belonged to someone who loved him and was herself so lovable. A 
story he heard others tell gave even stronger assurance. 

In 1895, when Victor was about a year old, he became sick. 
Mother put him to bed and applied all her usual remedies—hot 
peppermint water for stomachache, quinine for malarial fever, and 
tiny, sweet pills of aconite from her little case of homeopathic 
medicines. He did not improve. She was especially worried be¬ 
cause her husband, William Eagle Rambo, was away in Bombay, 
attending to business connected with his orphanage for boys. She 
called Major Quinn, the British civil surgeon stationed near their 
mission post in Damoh, Central India. He was always a depend¬ 
able help in case of sickness or other emergency. 

After examining the child, the doctor looked grave. He gave 
other medications and recommended changes of diet. Nothing 
helped. Returning, he found the boy's condition even worse. 
"Something here isn't right for Victor," he said. "It could be food, 
or even water. With your husband away, the servants may not have 
been so careful about boiling it. This is the most dangerous season 

11 


12 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


for sickness, and here in this area it's difficult to get the most 
nourishing food, at least in combinations a child can take. You 
must take the baby somewhere else and put him on a healthier 
diet, or you're going to lose him." 

Kate Rambo stared at him in dismay. But—how? There was no 
railroad out of Damoh. The only way open was the military road of 
thirty miles used for dry-season marching by the army. And this 
was the rainy season, lasting from the middle of June to the first of 
October. The road was almost impassable, with few good bridges 
and with causeways sure to be inundated. In fact, had it not been 
for the unexpectedly heavy rains, William Eagle should have re¬ 
turned already. 

"I'll go, of course," she decided without hesitation. "I'll take him 
to Bina to our mission friends, the Ben Mitchells." 

Hastily she made her plans. "You will go with me?" she asked 
the children's ayah (Indian nurse). 

"Achchha, Memsahib." The little brown woman gave instant 
assent. "Mai tayar hun" (Good, madam, I am ready). 

With calm insistence Kate answered the protests of Alfred 
Aleppa, her husband's Indian helper in the orphanage, and the 
other missionaries. Suppose it was a dangerous road. She had 
traveled it many times and was not afraid. No, of course none of 
them must go with her. All were needed there at the mission. She 
would be grateful if they would care for three-year-old Philip in her 
absence. 

Oxen were hitched to the orphanage's bullock cart. With Victor 
in her arms, she settled herself on the flat, straw-filled body cov¬ 
ered by blankets, and started off with a dependable driver and the 
faithful ayah who, like herself, would gladly have given her own 
life for one of the children. 

The journey was both hazardous and frightening. Rain pelted 
down. Brooks became raging streams, flowing over the causeways 
and dips of the road. On the thirty miles to Saugor they had to 
change oxen several times. How the driver persuaded the beasts to 
cross the causeways with rapid water swirling about their loins she 
would never know. More than once the floor of the low cart was 
flooded. On one causeway she had to rest on her knees and hold 
the baby high in her arms to keep him dry. At Saugor they reached 
the railroad running through to Bina on the main line to Jhansi, 
Agra, and on to Delhi. On the train she surrendered the baby into 
the ayah's arms and, still in her soaked clothes, stretched on the 
hard leather seat and slept for the first time in two days. 

The Mitchells welcomed them with amazement and sympathetic 
concern. At Mrs. Mitchell's suggestion, Victor was put on a diet of 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


13 


donkey milk. Immediately he began thriving and regained his lost 
weight. As was the custom, the obliging animal was brought to the 
compound and milked by the front verandah, carefully watched to 
see that no contaminating surplus of unboiled water was added to 
her milk. 

"You used to look for your foster mother's coming and gurgle 
gleefully/' his mother told him when he was old enough to appre¬ 
ciate the story. 

"But don't blame your parents," his father was heard to joke, "if 
you turn out to be a donkey/' 

Love. Security. They were as tangible as the high walls of the 
mission bungalow with its wide stone porches sheltered by flower¬ 
ing bougainvilleas; as his mother's hands feeling his forehead for 
fever or tucking him under his mosquito-netting tent at night; as 
the folds of her long, full skirt that he clutched when a stranger 
came to the door. In his early years he was seldom far from her side. 

"See Memsahib, see Victor Baba," the Indian helpers would say 
with amusement. 

Even in her absence, as when he was put to bed, the crooning 
voice of the sweeper ayah summoned her comforting presence as 
she rocked him to sleep: 

Sojaobe-ta, Sojaobe-ta 
Go to sleep, son. Go to sleep. 

Tere mata pita Tnjhe chuma 
Your father and your mother 

deke Pyar karte ham, 

have kissed you and loved you. 

One memory of his mother would remain with him all his life. 
He came half awake, screaming. There were wolves in his room. 
Sixty and even seventy years later he would still be able to see 
them, four or five of them, snarling, teeth bared. Wolves? Why? So 
far as he could remember he had never heard of them. But there 
they were, symbols of every imaginable childhood fear. Then his 
mother appeared in the door, and he saw the wolves run like fury 
and disappear through the open door of his bathroom cubicle, 
gone forever, for he never had the nightmare again. How often 
through the years, intangible but no less real, he would sense the 
comforting presence of the love of God! 

Only once did he ever see his mother cry. Even when the cable 
came telling of her mother's death, no one saw r her weep. She 
disappeared into an upper room, stayed there alone for the rest of 



14 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


the day, and then reappeared dry-eyed, resuming her busy life as 
usual. But this once, when he was five or six, he saw her weeping. 
Tears were running down her cheeks. She was holding both hands 
to her face, and he could see the wetness seeping through her 
fingers. He pulled at her skirt, but she paid not the slightest 
attention. 

"Mother!" he cried. He gasped in astonishment and dismay. It 
was as if the sun had failed to rise. "What—what is it? What's the 
trouble?" 

She gave no sign of hearing. He felt cold with fright. Had 
something terrible happened to his father, or to his brother Philip? 
Was—was the world coming to an end? He spoke again, this time 
his voice a mere croak. "Why—why?" 

At last she lowered her hands, the tears still flowing. She 
pointed to the floor, and he saw there the fragments of a gold- 
rimmed, flowered plate. "Victor," she said in a broken voice, still 
sobbing, "the last dish that your father and I got in our wedding 
set, when we set up our home in America, is broken." 

He was more frightened and bewildered than ever. Mother 
crying over a dish the way he or the other children might shed tears 
over a broken toy? Still crying, she went upstairs, and he waited in 
an agony of uncertainty, not daring to follow, until about twenty 
minutes later she came down, eyes dry and smiling. "Don't worry, 
Victor. I'm all right." And his world became right again. Only 
much later, learning of the first year of her marriage, was he able 
fully to understand. 

Kate Clough (pronounced Cluff) was Scotch. As the result of a 
clan war in Scotland, some of her ancestors on the defeated side 
had been forced to move to the New World, first to Canada, then to 
the United States. She had been born in Ascutneyville, Vermont. 
She had come from New England to teach in a school for black 
children in Ohio. The minister of the church she attended there 
was William Eagle Rambo, usually called Eagle. He was ten years 
her senior, handsome, earnest, an eloquent preacher, and a 
talented singer. She fell in love, first with his melodious voice, then 
with the man himself; he was equally attracted to her. He accepted 
the call of a church in Ludlow, Kentucky, and they were married. 

Kate was ideally happy. Settled in a comfortable parsonage, 
surrounded by new furniture and her precious wedding gifts, 
confident in the assurance that she would be an acceptable minis¬ 
ter's wife, she looked forward to a lifetime of just such beatitude 
and Christian service. Then, less than a month after her marriage, 
the blow fell. A missionary from India, G. L. Wharton, burdened 
with a compulsion to enlist new bearers of Christ for that country's 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


15 


needy millions, came to Ludlow. After an impassioned sermon in 
their church, he visited the parsonage. 

"You have a work to do in India," he told Eagle bluntly. 

Kate stared aghast. When her husband spoke she drew a long 
breath of relief. 

"But—it's impossible. I have just come to this church. They're 
counting on me for an important—" 

Wharton interruped impatiently. "Nothing is so important as 
taking the gospel to these millions of unsaved. A dozen men could 
be found to take your place here. Surely you must face the chal¬ 
lenge that this may be the call of God." 

To Kate's dismay. Eagle did. When talk with friends and fellow 
ministers and earnest prayer assured him that it was indeed God's 
will, she dared not protest aloud. But inwardly, rebellion seethed. 
Give up this comfortable home , all these treasures, this friendly parish for 
some remote jungle shelter, infested perhaps with snakes, scorpions, and 
no one knows what else? Leave family, beloved mother, and three sisters for 
an alien land many weeks and stormy seas away? She suspected that 
already she was pregnant. Was she to bear her child under adverse 
conditions, perhaps with no doctor available and no one to attend 
her but a native midwife? But she voiced none of those fears. And if 
Eagle, whom she had promised to love and cherish, was assured 
that it was the call of God, whom she had promised to serve, who 
was she to question? 

Events moved with the speed and turmoil of a whirlwind. The 
new furniture was sold. The few most precious possessions that it 
seemed feasible to take were carefully packed for shipment. "My 
set of wedding china?" she begged. Starting to shake his head, 
Eagle saw the look in her eyes and yielded. Buried in straw within 
stout wooden boxes, it would arrive almost intact. They had been 
married on September 1,1891, and they set sail for India on October 
17, just forty-seven days later. 

Now, after not quite ten years, she looked down at the flowered 
fragments through a blur of tears. She had not scolded the table 
helper who had broken it. '"It's all right, Babu. You couldn't help 
it." Stooping, she picked up the pieces and threw them in the 
waste. She might have saved a piece for remembrance, but she did 
not. Life had long since become too full for regrets. And Victor 
never saw her weep again. 

Eagle Rambo faced the new challenge with zest. The pioneer 
spirit was in his blood. Rambos had long been traveling, from 
Ramboulet, France, where their name had been Rambault and 
whence they had fled before the Huguenot massacres, to Sweden, 
to New Jersey, to Virginia, to Indiana. From Indiana they had gone 



16 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 



Eagle and Kate Rambo, taken in 1890. They went to India for the first time 
in October 1891 f just forty-seven days after their wedding. 

to Missouri during Civil War times, when the bushwhackers were 
coming up from Confederate states to raid the farms for horses and 
other loot, killing when they met opposition. Here Eagle had been 
bom at Ten Mile, on "Billy Creek," before the family moved to 
Republican City, Kansas. 

He was as fearless of spiritual change as of physical. First a 
staunch Methodist, he responded to the appeal of a group in the 
Christian Church that declared, "Where the Bible speaks, we 
speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent," and also averred, 
"We are not the only Christians, we are Christians only." Submit¬ 
ting to immersion, he became a candidate for the ministry, com¬ 
pleting his education at the College of the* Bible in Lexington, 
Kentucky, graduating in 1891. He went to India under the auspices 
of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society of the Christian 
Church and was assigned to Bilaspur, headquarters of the de¬ 
nomination in central India. As he wrote later, "I went with my 
Bible under my arm, in the belief that the gospel is the power of 
God unto salvation. It had never entered my imagination that 
mission work included anything beyond the preaching of the word 
in the villages and towns, with of course a small admixture of 
school and colporteur work." 

What a rude awakening he got! Even before he had time to adjust 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


17 


himself to a new country and people and learn their language 
properly, he was thrust into the direction of a boys' orphanage. He 
rebelled. Waste his time in such routine work as school teaching? 
But—there were the boys, and there was no one else available. At 
least Bilaspur was a fair-sized city, on a railroad, and life in the 
mission bungalow was secure and comfortable. Kate was sur¬ 
prised and delighted to find a woman doctor to see her through her 
first confinement, even though Dr. Mary McGavran's hospital was 
at that time just a whitewashed, brick-walled clinic. 

The boys' work needed to be unified. After consultation with the 
chief commissioner of the Central Provinces, his superiors decided 
to move the orphanage to Damoh, where there was plenty of land 
available. The Rambos moved there in January 1895, when Victor 
was six months old. Although Damoh was the headquarters of a 
district, with British officers in residence, it was still thirty miles 
from a railroad, and all permanent buildings had yet to be con¬ 
structed. It seemed like a small beginning for an orphanage, only 
thirteen boys, yet within months famine was stalking central and 
northern India. The full, life-giving monsoon floods through 
which Kate traveled to save her son's life were to be the last for 
several years. 

The death toll from starvation and disease was appalling. In the 
next five years the population of Damoh District decreased by forty 
thousand. Although the mission stations could do little to allay the 
massive hunger, their orphanages were soon crowded beyond 
capacity. Girls were sent to one in Deogarh, Bihar, boys to Damoh. 
When starvation threatened, families were broken up. Parents, 
unable to feed their children, deserted them in the forests, by the 
waysides, or in the villages to beg or die, while they sought to 
escape with their own lives and went—God knew where. Some 
went to the great cities, like Calcutta, joining the labor force in 
factories. The children were found and sent to the new orphanage 
by friends or government officials. Soon news of this place where 
starving children could be fed spread through the district. Some 
came by themselves, crawling on hands and knees, unable to walk. 
Some were brought by their parents. Clinging to his mother's 
skirts, Victor watched her welcome one gaunt little newcomer after 
another and heard the plea that was never refused. "We are going 
to die, there will be no food. This child of ours, you will take him?" 

Sometimes they came in carloads. Once, after the railroad came 
through, a whole government-sponsored trainload of orphans 
arrived from the north, where famine threatened a million people. 
Soon there were more than three hundred fifty orphans in the 
Damoh orphanage, besides the many sent to the other mission 



18 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


stations. It challenged all of Eagle Rambo's wits and resources to 
feed them. A shipload of corn finally came from America, but he 
was able to provide no balanced diet. There was a dearth of pro- 
teins. Sometimes he would go into the surrounding forests and 
shoot a deer. Then all in the orphanage would have a small portion 
of meat; but because there was no refrigeration, it had to be eaten at 
once. In spite of all his efforts, the medical service of the British 
surgeon, Major Quinn, and later the skills of Dr. Mary McGavran, 
some of the boys died. 

Yet out of the experience there came to Eagle Rambo a sense of 
divine destiny. He had been called to India for just such a time and 
challenge as this. His whole philosophy of his role as a missionary 
changed abruptly. Preach to a few adults in the hope of making a 
handful of Christian converts, all of them still enmeshed in the 
social structure that made beasts of burden of a large part of India's 
population, victims of ignorance, superstition, famine, and exploi¬ 
tation by unscrupulous landlords? Here was a chance to take pliant 
young lives and teach them skills that would make them indepen¬ 
dent in this land of poverty in which the masses were the servants 
of the few, introduce them to neglected occupations, and train 
them in better farming methods so they could settle on govern¬ 
ment land and become their own masters. Tell them about the 
gospel, of course, but still better, live it. If they chose to accept it, 
well and good, but there would be no forcing, no making of "rice 
Christians." The famine, disaster though it was, made possible an 
opportunity for creating new life, an opportunity that might never 
come again. 

It was a new concept of missions and one that did not meet with 
the approval of all of Eagle Rambo's superiors. Teach boys to be 
farmers, shepherds, bee keepers, dairymen, carpenters, and 
tailors? That was considered unnecessary and not in accord with 
established mission procedure. It was the business of the 
missionary to make converts. Then the converts must be trained to 
become evangelists themselves, when they would either be sup¬ 
ported by the mission or find some way to earn a living. It was far 
simpler, when they came to manhood or womanhood, to marry the 
girls off and send the men to theological school than to spend time 
and money training them to become competent workers in a secu¬ 
lar field. But in such an emergency one could not wait for a board to 
act. Eagle Rambo made his own appeal to the church at home. 

"The opportunity is now upon us," he wrote in an impassioned 
article for the church paper, "and has been thrust upon us, not 
invited. A complete equipment of machinery and tools is abso- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


19 


lutely necessary." He went on to outline his needs—hoes, rakes, 
plows, seed drills, scythes, a churn and separator, pruning tools, a 
colony of bees, a windmill, milk cattle, and at least $2,000 for cheap 
buildings and other accessories. And his appeal brought results. 
One churchman promised $50 toward a $150 windmill. The A. I. 
Root Company of Medina, Ohio, offered a colony of bees and full 
equipment for an apiary, paying the freight to Damoh. And long 
before Sam Higginbotham started his famous agricultural institute 
in Allahabad, north India, Eagle Rambo was carrying on a similar 
experiment down in Central Provinces. 

He started farms and insisted that the boys work in the fields, 
growing their own food. He secured fine cows from a government 
dairy to provide good milk for them, making sure that, unlike the 
products of some Indian milkmen, it would remain undiluted. 

"Why," asked John McGavran, one of his mission associates, of 
his Indian milkman, "are you putting dirty water into the milk you 
are delivering to us?" 

" Ohe , no. Sahib!" protested the dairyman, "I am using only the 
purest water!" 

Eagle imported sheep from Australia to contribute to the boys' 
food and clothing as well as their education in caring for the flock 
and shearing. Having kept bees on his home farm in America, he 
introduced the Italian queen bees, which thrived in their new 
environment. He tamed the little Indian bees and put them to 
work. He tried to domesticate the great Indian bees that built their 
hives in a huge half circle in the trees around Damoh, but he was 
disappointed when those big fellows refused to be tamed; they 
easily could have carried twice as much nectar into his hives as 
their little cousins. 

There was a blacksmith's forge and a tailor's shop. Under the 
tutelage of a master instructor the boys learned how to build, in 
time helping to construct their own permanent quarters, a school, 
a chapel, and the Rambos' bungalow. Visiting Damoh three quar¬ 
ters of a century later, Victor would find the house as strong and 
stable as when it was built; its doors as solid and stout-hinged; its 
bathroom with the same cement floor and four-inch-high 
enclosure for bathing; its two-and-a-half foot masonry wall sup¬ 
port where the seven-gallon water jugs were placed still intact. He 
would remember the cool freshness of the water that his father, 
always ingenious, had strained through cotton and gauze from 
one earthenware pot into another and still another so that it would 
be fully aerated, cooled, safe, and without the usual flat taste of 
boiled water. He would climb the stone stairs, made unusually 



20 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


shallow because of his mother's increasing weakness, half expect¬ 
ing to hear the rustle of her long, starched petticoats as she urged 
him up to bed. All about him the memories would crowd, arousing 
long-dormant emotions. 

Excitement, with a tingle of fear: It was there in the old dining 
room under the table that he had seen the Russell's viper, at least 
five feet long, one of the most dangerous of snakes, responsible for 
killing more people than cobras. It was as anxious as he to get 
away, but in its fright it easily could have attacked him. He had run 
and told the cook and his father, and they had killed it. 

Guilt: There on the shelf in the kitchen had stood the clay pot in 
which the Muslim cook, Mohammed, had kept his "holy water" 
that Victor and Philip had liked to mischievously pollute with their 
unholy fingers—until one day they were caught, and Moham¬ 
med, much annoyed but with a twinkle in his eyes, had told their 
father. The chastisement that followed had been nothing compared 
to the mental switching that had persisted through the years. 

Delight: There in the high-ceilinged living room he had hung up 
his stocking by the fireplace and played with the fascinating 
Christmas gifts brought by the British officers' wives to the sup¬ 
posedly "poor" missionary children—toys from Calcutta, elabo¬ 
rate trains and "crackers" to be pulled open with a snap, and 
sweets that he had made to last much longer than any of the other 
children, as all his life he had learned to savor happiness with a zest 
far outlasting its actual experience. 

Yet his earliest memories were not only of this early home. They 
were of riding up the mountains in a dandi, a chair big enough to 
hold two people, with two men at each end to carry it, four more 
going along to spell them when they stopped to rest. Sometimes he 
and Philip would get out and walk, but it was an uphill trek, 5,000 
feet higher than the 2,000 at Rajpur, where they went by a two-day 
train trip. Never could one forget the emergence into blessed 
coolness after the 110 to 120 degree heat on the plains. 

Landour, the hill station that was their haven during the hottest 
season, was Victor's second world. Unlike life on the plains, where 
his playmates were chiefly the Indian orphan boys, his compan¬ 
ions here were mostly from American, British, or Anglo-Indian 
families. It was a joyous season, especially during the few weeks 
when Eagle came to join them. There were parties, sorties to the 
bazaars with their aromas of spice shops and curries and those 
delicious sweets called jalcbes, and trips to the Childer's Castle side, 
where one could see the glittering peaks of the Himalayas. But it 
was on expeditions without inhibiting elders that the hills became 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


21 


a paradise of freedom. With Philip and other boys he scampered 
over the flat roofs of houses built close together on the mountain 
slopes, jumping or climbing from one to another. 

Sometimes all alone he would venture over the steep hills, 
looking for the dahlias—blue, red, and yellow—growing in pro¬ 
fusion in the cracks of stones and clefts of the innumerable cliffs. 
Clinging to the rock with his belly smack against its sloping surface 
and with a bare foothold on its irregular face, he would stretch 
down into the abyss to pick the flowers. Little did Mother know as 
she sat smiling beside a beautiful bouquet what risks it had cost. 
But personal danger would always be the least of his worries. The 
dahlias were beautiful and Mother liked them, and he meant to get 
them. 

Running away to adventure; that was how Victor was to re¬ 
member his boyhood in Landour. Not that there was anything to 
run from or to. It was just moving . . . along a twisting mountain 
path polished by centuries of bare or sandaled feet, sometimes on 
the edge of a thousand-foot cliff . . . meeting a milkman coming 
along the trail, singing, with his round, wooden crocks strapped to 
his back, or a man or woman toiling up the slope, back bent double 
by an incredible load of rice, tins of fuel oil, or fifty kilo bags of 
wheat or potatoes for the market. 

"Salaam!" he would greet cheerfully. Here, far more than in the 
mission compound in Damoh, he touched, smelled, breathed, and 
tasted the real India. 

It was in Landour when Victor was six that his sister, Dorothy 
Helen, was born. Huber, born during the Rambos 7 furlough in 
America in 1896, was four. 

"Dear little lovely baby sister/ 7 Kate Rambo wrote Eagle on June 
18, 1900. "She is handsome as a little doll, the prettiest and best 
baby in Landour." 

"Huber beats me," she continued. "Victor was tame for mischief 
in comparison. Yesterday he spit in the ink bottle, stuffed a hand¬ 
kerchief into the teakettle, threw a dakshi (and spoiled it) down 
the drain, ate a turnip the coolies gave him, nearly fell out of 
the dressing room window, kicked Victor, and a few other things. 
But he is a darling, with such red cheeks and sturdy legs." 

Victor tame for mischief? Perhaps Kate had forgotten the episode 
on furlough in Hiram, Ohio, when Victor was two. They had had a 
very good friend named Frost, who lived next door. The two 
families got water from a common well with a pump. One day 
Victor had come to her and said, "Pa Frost scold me." 

"Why did Pa Frost scold you? What did you do? 77 



22 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


"Nothing." 

"But there must have been something." 

There had been. Mr. Frost had caught five rats in a multiple trap, 
drowned them, and left them for further riddance. Victor had 
"helped" by taking each one to the well, where he discovered a 
knothole in one of the covering boards that was just large enough 
to push a rat through. Fortunately Pa Frost had been both kindly 
and understanding of small boys. 

While the family escaped the rigors of heat on the plains, Victor 
received his first formal schooling in Landour at the Philander 
Smith Institute. Philip attended Woodstock School during this 
time. But when the family returned to the plains the two boys, like 
most missionary children, became boarders at the two schools. 
Here Victor discovered that the caste system was not confined to 
Indians. The upperclass students were the "elite," their privileged 
status extending even to the dining room. There was good silver¬ 
ware, poor silverware, and some utterly disreputable, bent and 
even broken. The upper grades got the good, fhe middle school 
classes the passable, the small fry, including himself, the dilapi¬ 
dated. The "elite" were ready to pounce on any servant who dared 
question their prerogatives. 

Arriving early one mealtime, Victor exchanged his sorry imple¬ 
ments for those of an upperclassman. Presently the injured stu¬ 
dent, a bully, was seizing the presumably guilty servant by the ear 
and demanding punishment. Victor, although unhappy, was too 
much the coward to take the blame or defend his action. But even 
at this early age he smarted at social injustice. He felt the same 
helpless rebellion when down on the plains he saw a British soldier 
snap a whip around the legs of an Indian servant "just for fun," or 
when he learned of an Indian treating one of his own countrymen 
unfairly. 

He was a lazy student. One day when the teacher asked the class 
what psalm they would like to memorize, he hastened to respond, 
knowing he had memorized the twenty-third at home. Fortunately 
for his morale, he made an error in number. 

"Good, Victor," agreed the teacher. "We will memorize the 
twenty-fourth psalm. Have it ready tomorrow." Rude shock! Dis¬ 
gruntled, he set himself to learn the unfamiliar verses. He did not 
learn them too well, for his recitation the following day required 
much prompting. The discipline was of permanent as well as 
temporary benefit, however, because the psalm became a lifelong 
favorite. 

There was schooling on the plains as well as in the hills. Kate was 
a teacher, but she was too busy helping care for the orphans to 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


23 


spend hours educating her children, so they had tutors. One was a 
Bengali whom they called Babu ji, an opium addict who, after 
giving them an assignment, would go to sleep. Thereupon Victor, 
Philip, and Huber would scamper off to play, returning before 
there was danger of his waking. But they learned from him. An¬ 
other was an Anglo-Indian who was a hilarious joker as well as a 
skilled teacher and would laugh so hard that the room would 
shake. If he and Eagle Rambo, who also had a wonderful, deep 
"belly laugh," had had a contest in merriment, the teacher would 
have won easily. 

Laughter was as indigenous to India as sorrow, and Victor grew 
up with an intimate knowledge of both. His was a carefree yet 
caring world. He watched his mother gather half-starved children 
into her arms, saw her helpless grief as she sent their parents away 
to die. If the visitors bringing their children showed signs of lep¬ 
rosy, Mother would push him back, although she herself gave no 
evidence of fear of this or any other ailment. Once, walking along 
the road some distance from the orphanage, he saw a corpse. 
Starvation? Cholera? Plague? He never knew. 

Death, like life, was a familiar reality. It stalked through the 
orphaned children coming in undernourished, born of mothers 
and fathers who had never known good nourishment. And in spite 
of all his father could do, some boys died and were buried at once 
in the little cemetery in the midst of the forest about two hundred 
yards from the orphanage. Death, even its crudest reality, was 
accepted in stride. Once after such a burial, Victor and some 
companions were wandering in the forest and went past the ceme¬ 
tery. They saw that hyenas had made a forty-five degree, sloping 
passage into the deep grave, directly into the middle of the dead 
boy's body containing the inner organs they coveted. They stared 
in silence, marveling at the skill of the predators. What engineers! 
They had dug not in the soft earth with which the grave had been 
refilled, and which might have trapped them by falling in on them; 
but, starting four or five feet outside in the hard soil, they had 
made this oblique passage straight to their desired goal and 
emerged safely. Victor felt no particular horror. It was just one of 
the facts of life that must be faced. 

"I had such a boyhood," he was to remember, "as no one else 
could dream of." 

His home was not only the bara bangalo (big bungalow) but the 
whole mission compound, his loving family all its workers. There 
was Alfred Aleppa, his father's capable assistant who was gracious 
and kindly, and his wife, Tabitha, who helped Kate care for the 
orphans' food and clothes. There were the Franklin sisters, who 



24 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


taught the orphanage boys. A pity he could not have learned Hindi 
from them for, although he was bilingual from babyhood, his 
Hindi, gleaned from servants and playmates, was of the Sais (horse 
caretakers) variety, rough, ungrammatical, not profane but 
abounding in the abuse language known as gali, a word derived 
from the name of a snouted animal resembling the American pig. 
There were the ayah, the children's nurse who loved them like her 
own offspring, and Mohammed, who slipped them sweets and 
patiently endured their pranks. Only once did Victor ever know a 
servant to treat him unkindly, and he was so surprised that he 
simply ran away. 

There were playmates galore on the compound, but as on the 
hills he managed to run away by himself to adventure 
— and sometimes found too much of it. One day he was running 
from one bungalow to another along a familiar path between two 
walls of tall grass with the baers (wild plum thorn bushes) and other 
scrub trees on each side. Suddenly he saw lying in the path ahead 
what looked like a big log. But he was cautious. It was a long body 
perhaps eight inches in diameter, absolutely motionless. Fortu¬ 
nately he knew what it was, a python on shikar (hunting). There it 
lay, waiting—for what? a wild pig? a jackal? a dog? or a small boy? 
He knew about pythons. They do not poison their victims. They 
squeeze them. Any jackal or boy touching that body would have 
been wound around with the rapidity of a springing rat trap and 
crushed to death, ready to be swallowed. There was one that lived 
in a big cactus clump on the edge of the compound, impossible to 
find, and every so often one of the pigs would stray in and become 
its prey. Victor was not afraid. Backing up about twenty feet, he ran 
like the wind, cleared the menace by at least a foot, and without 
stopping to look back sailed along home, arriving breathless and 
speechless beside his mother. 

No day was devoid of excitement, whether fighting rats in the 
woodpile of the carpenter shop, chasing bats—he found one once 
in the toe of his stocking—or riding in front of his father on the 
new bicycle. It was the first one ever brought into Central Province, 
forerunner of the thousands that would soon add confusion to the 
welter of bullock bandies, hand carts, rickshaws, camels, hawkers, 
pedestrians, and cows clogging every main street of India. When 
they rode through the bazaar on this "iron horse," there was 
always a throng of children following and adults gawking at the 
curiosity, just as thrilling was the coming of the first phonograph 
when the British troops marched into Damoh from Jabalpur. There 
were ear phones to hear it with and round tubes with a needle. 

Even more exciting was festival time, perhaps Christmas, when 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


25 


the family visited the district commissioner and the boys were 
given rides on an elephant. Once the elephant had been given an 
errand to the mission compound through the scrub jungle. 

"Would you like to go along?" the mahout asked Victor. 

Would he! Thinking his parents would consent, he did not tell 
them. Hoisted into the big decorated box on the elephant's back, 
he sat on the floor and held on to the edge for dear life. The mahout 
straddled the neck in front of him, sitting as straight as if he were 
taking the viceroy for a ride. It was exhilarating. Victor felt like a 
maharajah. But his parents had not been told of his absence; there 
was no telephone communication; and he was not there when the 
family started home. One of those rare enforcements of physical 
discipline followed, the application of the little willow switch, 
harmless but effective, that his father used on both the orphans 
and his own children. In either case it was a thorough and stinging 
application, but it was administered always in love. Years later 
Samaru, one of the orphanage boys, was to acknowledge this: 
"Your father used to punish us with tears in his eyes, crying while 
he was laying on the switch." 

One of the misdemeanors that grieved Eagle most concerned his 
thriving guava orchard. The Indian guava, big as an apple, sweet 
and succulent when fully ripe and good eating for boys even when 
green, supplied vitamins and other nourishment that he found 
difficult to secure for his weakened orphans. The trees, common to 
the plains, had been there on his arrival, but he had carefully 
cultivated them with the boys' help and, to protect them from 
marauders animal and human, had enclosed them within a 
wooden fence. But the more mischievous boys would climb the 
fence at night, sneak into the orchard, and eat the fruit before it was 
ripe. Stealing? He did not call it that. They would get the fruit 
eventually anyway, but it was disappointing both that they de¬ 
prived themselves and others of the large, nourishing, ripe fruit 
and that they betrayed his trust in their obedience. Then one time 
after a bout of sickness, he went up to the hills for a longer vacation 
than usual, leaving the orphanage in the hands of a fellow 
missionary and Alfred Aleppa. Learning of the petty thievery of 
the green fruit, the missionary was shocked. 

"This orchard is provoking stealing in the boys!" he protested. 
"It must stop." 

Aleppa tried to explain. Rambo Sahib depended on the fruit to 
supply the nourishment the boys needed. It was hard getting 
enough fruits and vegetables in this time of famine. He frowned on 
the boys' pranks, of course, and punished the culprits when they 
were discovered. But it was not really stealing. The boys had 



26 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


helped to cultivate the guavas. The Sahib tried to teach them that 
the farm belonged to all of them together. 

The missionary was unconvinced. To Aleppa's horror he took an 
axe, went into the orchard, and chopped down every one of the 
trees. When Eagle Rambo returned he found raw stumps. He was 
more saddened than angry. Did the man think that taking away 
food from their poor, weak bodies was going to change the boys' 
hearts? No trees ever grew there again. Visiting the place seventy 
years later, Victor would find nothing but red gravel, unfit even for 
cactus growth. 

Providing nourishing food for his charges was for Eagle Rambo a 
constant struggle. Years ahead of his time he sensed the necessity 
for a balanced diet, especially a sufficiency of protein for boys who 
had known such a lack of it. He had introduced dairying, import¬ 
ing cows from England. He had given contracts for milk to local 
cowherds and dairymen. The milk and buttermilk were given 
chiefly to the weaker children, and he always felt regret that most 
of the boys did not have sufficient milk, and many could have none 
at all. 

To supplement their diet, he often went into the surrounding 
forests to hunt. There was plenty of game: the noble elk called 
sambar; chital, a spotted deer; the small chinkara, the barking deer; 
and many wild pigs. Heads and horns of elk he had killed hung in 
hall and living room along with the graceful antlers of deer, the 
horns of a black buck, and a homely nil guy (blue bull). For him it 
was not a sport. But what was earnest labor for their father was 
hilarious excitement for the sons. 

"Come on, Victor," he said one day. "I am going to the talao in the 
forest to see if I can get a suar for us and the boys to eat." The talao 
was a pond, the suar a wild pig. Victor obeyed with alacrity. 

Near the pond he sneaked behind his father as he cautiously 
made his way through the shrubbery of the thick bamboo entirely 
surrounding the water. They reached a position from which they 
could see the other side. After a few minutes the two-foot em¬ 
bankment on the opposite side was invaded by what seemed a 
hundred wild pigs of every size and age. Eagle aimed and shot, 
and within five seconds there was not a pig to be seen, only the 
sound of scufflings in rapid retreat. A miss. At the sound of the 
shot, up from the pond rose a flock of red-wattled plover, giving 
their strange cry that sounded like 'Diddididid you do it? Did- 
dididid you do it?" Exasperated, Eagle sent an unaimed shot at the 
annoying inquisitors, but that missed, too. He was less troubled by 
his missed shot than by the fact that 350 boys did not have a 
nourishing taste of pork, nor did the Rambos and their servants 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


27 


that evening. Of course the Muslim cook would not eat pork, but 
he did not hesitate to cook it for the family. Usually on a shikar Eagle 
was an excellent shot. Perhaps the excitement of the boy at his side 
had not helped his aim. 

But he was far more distressed when a panther entered the pen 
no more than fifty feet from the bungalow and killed three of his 
best sheep. Imported from Australia, they were a source not only 
of food but of the wool that furnished the boys work in spinning, 
weaving, and making clothes in the tailor shop. A machan was 
erected, an elevated platform on four legs on which a man could sit 
and make sounds to drive away encroachers. To Victor's joy his 
father let him go up on the machan , where there was a view of the 
dead sheep in the pen below. "There," he pointed, "is the place 
where I expect the panther to come tonight to eat his kill." Victor 
could not go with his father that night, but he watched the prepa¬ 
rations. A kerosene bicycle lamp was fitted with a black cover, a 
hole cut through to let out a narrow beam. Victor tried to keep 
awake, listening for a shot, but was sound asleep when it came. 

"Did you get it?" he asked eagerly the next morning. 

Father's face looked fittingly chagrined. The panther had come 
and jumped over the wall. Eagle had set his sights and fired, in his 
eagerness probably too soon. That morning they had found the 
dead sheep the panther had taken with a bullet in it. There was no 
smiling then, but later Eagle was to endure much ribbing for 
"killing a dead sheep." 

Sometimes the jungle penetrated the compound with even more 
savage excitement. Once a tiger that had been shot was brought to 
the bungalow, suspended by its tied front and hind legs to a pole 
carried by six men. Another time a living tiger was driven to the 
front of the bungalow in a crude country trap, its bars made of 
sawn timber tied partly with iron and partly with heavy woven 
vines, strong as manila ropes. Eagle summoned all the orphan 
boys as well as his own to see these curiosities. He wanted them to 
have every experience possible. 

The Bible was an integral part of his life, and he was taught to 
respect and revere the strength that Christianity gave his parents. 
He learned many parts of Scripture besides that troublesome 
twenty-fourth psalm, especially the basic teachings of Jesus, and 
they became the sinews of his growing character. 

Then slowly came uncertainty and change. Circumstances were 
making necessary the Rambos' return to America. Kate had not 
been well since the birth of Dorothy Helen. Then she was struck 
with a severe sickness. For a long time — it seemed like years to her 
children—she was hospitalized in Mussoorie, close to Landour, 



28 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


where she was cared for by devoted Anglo-Indian nurses. Return¬ 
ing to the plains, she was confined to her bed for months. Eagle 
also had never completely recovered from a severe attack of 
typhoid fever, the second since coming to India. 

But their physical weakness was only one of Eagle's worries as 
he prepared to go on furlough. What would happen to his orphan¬ 
age? He could trust Alfred Aleppa to carry on the work they had 
begun together—the farm, the animal husbandry, and the indus¬ 
trial training. Alfred was a competent teacher, a counselor, an 
arbitrator, a loving Christian example, and a stern but kind disci¬ 
plinarian. But he would be second in command, unable to oppose 
higher authority. Another missionary would be sent to fill Eagle's 
place in his absence. Many members of the mission board still 
frowned on his concept of the missionary's role. He believed that 
strong bodies, practical skills that could make a man independent, 
belief m the dignity of labor, and discipline in the use of hands and 
eyes as well as brains were as fundamental to the development of 
Christian character as training for preaching and evangelism. 
Many of his boys had consecrated their lives to Christian service, 
but not because they had been forced or unduly urged. He could 
see them going out, witnessing to their faith, not necessarily as 
preachers but as farmers, carpenters, tailors, and teachers; proud, 
independent, unlike so many converts who in their poverty had to 
be subsidized by foreign money. 

In spite of his misgivings, he anticipated the coming furlough. 
He could appeal to Christians in America, show them the hun¬ 
dreds of pictures he had taken with his big box camera, inspire 
them with his vision. Yes, and he would come back with a scien¬ 
tifically trained agriculturist, an expert in manual training, and— 
daring hope!—at least twenty thousand dollars to buy land and 
equipment to carry out experiments that needed to be made before 
determining just what was the best procedure to follow in bringing 
his vision to fulfillment. 

The family started for America in the spring of 1904, with Kate 
traveling on a stretcher. In the hotel in Bombay, while waiting for 
their ship, Philip had an accident. The chimney of the lamp in the 
bathroom fell on his thigh and burned him severely. It was not his 
first mishap. Once, climbing a high tree near the school in Land- 
our, he had fallen on the rocks below and remained unconscious 
for three days. The fall left him with occasional epileptic seizures 
that would affect him throughout his life. Now as then, he made no 
complaint about the discomfort that kept him limping on the ship 
all the way to America. 

Because their father was caring for their mother most of the time 





APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


29 


down in her cabin, the children were free to roam the whole big, 
wonderful ship as they pleased, and they took full advantage of the 
freedom. There was no ayah or other servant to inhibit their ac¬ 
tivities, no threat of a willow switch to deter from mischief. The 
captain and crew were lenient. Even four-year-old Dorothy Helen 
was a willing participant in all their escapades. 

"Never," the captain was heard to confess later, "in all my 
experience were I and my crew so glad to get into port and unload 
such lovable and problem children as we had on that trip! 

Each day brought new and thrilling adventure. They watched 
the jugglers and hawkers in their little boats at Aden and Port Said. 
In the Bay of Biscay they experienced their first snow. Snowballing 
each other on deck, they shouted with glee. Just feeling the soft, 
cold stuff in their hands was a thrill. Going through the Red Sea 
and the Mediterranean, they would hang over the deck rail and 
watch the playing porpoises. There were other playmates. One 
was a little girl who was not allowed to play with any child whose 
hands were soiled, and without Kate's supervision the young 
Rambos failed to qualify. After leaving Bombay her mother offered 
a prize to the child whose hands remained the cleanest all the way 
to Liverpool. Victor determined to win it. He scrubbed with the 
washrag so hard and continually that his usually grimy paws 
remained a constant parboiled pink. He won the prize, a box of 
delicious candy that he shared with everybody on board, as he 
would have done in Damoh. 

As the ship docked in Liverpool, there on the pier was a pile of at 
least a thousand and ten tons of peanuts just unloaded from a ship 
arriving from West Africa. The boys climbed the peanut mountain 
and threw nuts at each other. No one objected or suggested that 
there was danger of a child's sinking into the vast, slippery mass 
and vanishing. Never would they forget the one time in their lives 
when they had enjoyed more peanuts than they could possibly eat. 
It was Victor's only memory of England. 

Far different was his sole recollection of the Atlantic passage. 
The boys were allowed to go to the front of the ship, where they 
could watch the prow driving majestically into the waves. Victor 
loved to go there at sunset. One evening the sun shot forth spokes 
of red light like a wheel, each spoke equal to the others in width 
and intensity, their crimson alternating with the deep blue of the 
sea. The water was calm, and the ship seemed to be going directly 
into the wheel's hub. He watched spellbound, all his nine-year-old 
being stretching to encompass this effusion of beauty, this burst of 
the heavens telling the glory of God. Ship and ocean seemed 
suspended in space. He stood and watched the glow die, further 



30 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


and further, until it was gone in the bit of cloud on the horizon. But 
it would never be gone from memory. A half century later, trying 
vainly to put the experience into words, his pulses would quicken 
and his nerves would tingle at the recollection. Thanks to devout 
parents and teachers, he had always accepted God as a reality and 
been more or less conscious of His presence. Now for the first time 
in his life he felt as if he had actually met Him face to face in His 
creation. 




A merica seemed a strange, drab, but intensely exciting country. 

l It was not like India, with its slow motion, flamboyant 
colors, soft speech, and gentle kindliness. Here in New York skies 
were dull, pale even in the sunshine. The unsmiling men who 
moved their baggage through customs seemed in a terrible hurry, 
and their voices sounded clipped and harsh. The horses that drew 
their carriage from ship dock to railroad station, hoofs clicking 
sharply on the cobblestones, were noisy counterparts to patient 
oxen plodding on hard earth or through golden dust. Victor re¬ 
garded his new world with surprise, mild distaste, and avid curios- 
ity. 

"This is home, darlings," Kate told the children eagerly. "This is 
your country where you really belong." Was it the ocean voyage, 
with Father's constant care, or the sight of this strange land she 
called home that had restored her to almost normal health, brought 
the old sparkle to her eyes? No matter what, with Mother herself 
again, Victor's life was secure and good. 

Still, Victor was confused. The bara bangalo was "home," the 
world of jungles, mountains, hungry children, heat, dust, and 
color. Of course he had known that he was not Indian but Ameri¬ 
can, yet until now the word had not possessed reality. The first 
furlough, when he was two, might never have been. He felt like 
two people, one in conflict with the other, and vaguely he sensed 
that always he would have these two identities, would always be 
striving to fuse the two into one. 

The railroad station was vast and bustling. While Eagle went to 
inquire about their train, Kate and the children huddled in a close 
knot around the baggage, a tiny island in a swirling stream of 
hustling bodies. Eagle returned full of urgency. The train was 
already waiting. They must hurry. A porter was found. Victor 
regarded with interest this American version of a coolie, transport¬ 
ing a heavy load on a little pushcart instead of piled high on his 

31 


32 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


head. The train, too, was different from those in India, no com¬ 
partments like little rooms but long cars with seats one behind the 
other. They found three seats together, enough room for six 
people. Suddenly Eagle stiffened; he counted only five Rambos. 
"Where's Philip?" he said. Somewhere in transit, Philip, prone to 
misfortune it seemed, had got himself lost. 

'Til go back," said Eagle tersely. "No," he said to Kate as she, 
white-faced, prepared to follow. "I'll find him. If we don't get here 
in time, go ahead. We'll come on the next train." 

Minutes were like hours. They seemed to Victor as long as the 
three days when he had hovered around his unconscious brother 
after his fall from the tree. Kate tried to smile. "It's all right, dear. 
Father will find him." 

A whistle screamed. A shrill voice shouted. The car jolted, then 
the wheels began to move. And just as the train was pulling out of 
the station, there was Father coming through the door, Philip in 
tow. Somehow he had managed to give the alarm. The police had 
swung into action. Father, Victor decided, could always be trusted 
to make things right, like God. But no! He would not want to be 
compared with God. When Victor had written him a letter from 
school beginning, "Dear Father," Eagle had objected because he 
began the word with a capital letter. "There is only one Father. 
God. Always use a small letter when you write of me." 

Perhaps it was the presence of his father that made that first 
summer in America so idyllic. The first part was spent in New 
Hampshire on a farm with Aunt Nell Barton, Kate's sister, and her 
husband. For the first time in their lives the Rambo children knew 
the blessings of abundance. Three times a day they sat down to a 
table loaded with enough nourishment to feed as many orphans 
for a week. Uncle Barton's cows, fattened by adequate grain and 
pasturage, were as superior to their father's as were his to some of 
the bony, mangy wrecks of cattle that roamed the Indian streets. 
One day's brimming pails of milk would have supplied a generous 
cup to all the orphans. There was meat every day, not just an 
occasional morsel from a lucky hunting trip. Blessings in his two 
worlds, Victor was discovering, were deplorably unequal. 

But India and the orphans were far away, and he adjusted to the 
affluent life with joy and abandon. Even farm chores were fun. He 
liked especially to find and bring in the eggs. One day, making the 
rounds without the usual basket, he stored them all in his 
pockets—coat, pants, even shirt. Exuberant over his booty, he 
entered the kitchen to be greeted by Aunt Nell's gracious smile of 
thanks, only to trip over a rug and fall flat to the tune of shattering 
shells and much laughter. Chagrined and embarrassed, he had 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


33 


to be stripped to the skin and bathed before returning to play. 

"Don't worry," Aunt Nell comforted. "We all make messes some 
time or other." 

It was her understanding of a small boy's awkwardness that sent 
him away assured and happy and also taught him that humiliation 
could best be taken with good humor. It was his first of many 
lessons in learning to laugh at himself. Nonetheless he felt guilty. 
Carelessness might not be a sin, but it could hurt things and 
people. Suppose it had happened in India. The eggs he wasted 
would have provided much-needed strength for a dozen orphans. 

The family's next stop, Lake Sunapee, also in New Hampshire, 
brought further adventure. They visited another of Kate's sisters. 
Aunt Lucy Lewin. Here again Father's companionship was the 
bonus that made hiking, swimming, and fishing a treasure store of 
memories, especially fishing. Even catching an eel on a grasshop¬ 
per lure, a dubious achievement in the opinion of native fisher¬ 
men, was for Victor a memorable feat. But the visit was darkened 
by tragedy. Aunt Lucy's son Kurt had recently died. A student in 
medical school in Baltimore, he had played safetyman on the 
football team. The only defense in the way of an opponent on his 
way to a touchdown, he had been stricken with heart failure. The 
family's grief was not permitted to mar the children's enjoyment. 
Assured that Cousin Kurt was in heaven, they played angels, 
visited him there, and, with his sisters Ruth and Marguerite, 
shared happily in his celestial bliss. As in India, death seemed a 
natural and necessary aspect of God's creation, to be accepted as 
happily as life. 

With the coming of autumn, vacation ended. Eagle moved his 
family to Des Moines, Iowa, where the children could be put in 
school and he could visit the Christian churches in the area, telling 
the story of his making boys into men. This was a center of the 
denomination, and the children were enrolled in a school not far 
from Drake University, a pioneer college of the Christian church. 
The months there were filled to the brim with new experiences that 
were joyous, life-changing, near tragic, and, at least one, ridicu¬ 
lously comic. 

The humorous incident happened on Halloween. Sanitary 
facilities were fully as crude as in India, and there was no sweeper 
to assume the duties of final disposal. In the night, roaming 
mischief-makers overturned the small outhouse at the rear of the 
Rambos' temporary home, leaving an open pit to entrap any small 
boy who felt the need of relief before dawn. Drugged with sleep 
though he was, Victor apprehended the danger just in time and 
was saved the indignity of an unsavory plunge. 



34 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


There was again the marvel of snow, with the thrill of coasting 
down the long hill near the campus, the older boys obligingly 
ready to put a wide-eyed ten-year-old on their bobsleds, giving 
him a degree of joy surpassing even his triumphant ride on the 
elephant. One day, coasting in fresh snow down the lawn to the 
sidewalk, perhaps eight feet, he looked back to see a fifty-cent 
piece sticking up in his tracks, an unheard-of fortune for a small 
boy. As with sweets, he made it last and last. But he acquired 
capital by hard labor as well as chance discovery, getting a job 
helping neighbors wash their clothes, turning the cranks of 
wringers and scrubbing garments on the corrugated metal 
washboards, a task earning him ten cents an hour in addition to a 
lame elbow and scraped knuckles. 

Once that year he almost met death. With companions he went 
swimming in the Des Moines River, at a deep place without much 
beach but with a lifeguard on duty at certain hours. He could not 
swim much but, not to be outdone, he followed his companions to 
a barge anchored in mid-stream, hauling himself along a rope 
buoyed by little, sealed, empty barrels so that it was near the 
surface. Arriving at the barge, he watched some of the boys jump 
into the water, grasping the circling rope as they came to the 
surface. 

"Come on," they urged. "It's fun." 

It was. Jumping into the water feet first, he would paw his way 
up with delight and catch the rope. Time after time he jumped, 
finding to his joy that he could swim a few strokes. Getting tired, 
he started to shore along the rope, hand over hand. Surely, he 
thought when only a few yards remained, he could swim the rest 
of the way. He let go of the rope, only to sink. Sputtering up, he 
sank again, and there was no more coming up. Fortunately the 
lifeguard had seen his predicament. The next thing Victor knew he 
was lying on the bank, gasping, retching, strong hands pushing 
rhythmically on his back. Emptied, still dazed, he managed to sit 
up, smiling but unable to speak. After the descent into blackness 
the sun was blinding. "Th-thank you — thank you," he was able to 
mouth at last. 

It was a foretaste of the future. Years later, hearing the words, 
"Thank you, thank you," a thousand and more times, he would 
remember this incident and understand better the gratitude of one 
delivered out of darkness into light. 

Life had become suddenly a precious thing. And in the Univer¬ 
sity Christian Church the family attended, as well as in the home, 
the challenge of its dedication was being constantly presented. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


35 


Brother Charles Medbury was an earnest and eloquent preacher. 
“Brother/' Victor's father always called him, not ''Reverend.'' For, 
''Are not all Christians to be 'reverend,"' Eagle Rambo maintained, 
''to love God and His Son and be reverent?'' 

From his birth Victor had been nurtured in the conviction that 
faith, to become vital, must be acknowledged. Now, hearing Bro¬ 
ther Medbury give the invitation to follow Christ, he could no 
longer resist. As his parents stood singing the invitational hymn 
with the congregation, he slipped past them and went forward. 
Perhaps there was some doubt that a boy of eleven could under¬ 
stand the full implication of such a commitment. The minister 
wanted to be sure. 

“Do you believe," he asked, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of 
God, and your Savior?" 

“I do," replied Victor, looking him straight in the eye. 

His baptism by immersion soon followed, after the custom of 
Disciples of Christ churches. 

His commitment was not only for some distant future. It was 
here and now, and it applied to life's smallest details. The short cut 
to the swimming hole led through a garden. Sometimes as he 
passed through, Victor had helped himself to a tomato or two. Not 
any more. For years he would recall the theft and his prayer for 
forgiveness. 

Meanwhile Eagle was earnestly seeking support for his work, 
telling the story of his orphanage, showing the pictures he had 
taken with his big bellows camera equipped with large glass plates. 
There were views of Damoh before the railroad had come; before 
and after shots of the boys as they arrived, skeleton thin, then fat¬ 
tened and healthy; glimpses of the way character was being de¬ 
veloped in field and dairy, carpenter and tailor shops. He was 
away much of the time, sometimes on long trips, and would come 
home dead weary, often more from frustration than from fatigue. 
Never had his family seen him so disheartened—yes, angry—as 
when he returned from a trip on which he had found after one 
meeting that someone had taken both of his precious picture 
albums. Advertisements in church magazines brought no results. 

The year of furlough was all too short. Eagle had not found a 
scientifically trained agriculturist to take back to India or an expert 
in manual training, and he suspected the mission board would not 
have sent them if he had. He was far from raising the twenty 
thousand dollars to buy more land and equipment to help fulfill his 
dream. But the year moved inexorably, and the time came to 
return. Then for Victor and Philip the blow fell. 



36 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


"You mean—we're not going back with you? We—have to stay 
here?" 

Eagle and Kate looked even more stricken than the boys. 

"We believe it's for your own good, darlings." It took all Kate's 
iron will to keep the tears back. "The schools here are all so much 
better." 

"The time will pass quickly, sons." (Five years? Seven? Longer?) 
"And even in India you'd be away from us most of the year." 

"We—We'll miss you far more than you'll miss us." (Incredible 
understatement!) 

They were words, empty platitudes, half truths hiding an ache 
that even the assurance of serving God could not ease. Kate suf¬ 
fered most during the final weeks. Had she thought it sacrifice to 
leave her new home, her precious possessions, for a strange coun¬ 
try, an uncertain future? She had not known the meaning of the 
word. Smiling, dry-eyed, she mended the boys' clothes; tucked 
little surprises and notes in the pockets; gave them endless admo¬ 
nitions about brushing teeth, keeping warm, reading their Bibles, 
and praying; and talked brightly about the good time ahead for 
them. Not until the train bearing them away pulled out of the 
station did she give way to outward expression of grief. Only once, 
Victor remembered, had he ever seen her cry, over a piece of 
broken china. He did not see her cry now. 

But Eagle and Kate were not to return to India after all. Just 
before they made ready to sail. Eagle was told by the mission board 
that he was not to be appointed to Damoh again but instead would 
be sent to some other station. The news was devastating. He knew 
that it meant the end of all his plans and dreams. The mission 
board had always looked askance at the farm and industrial school. 
His transfer meant inevitably that the work would be discon¬ 
tinued. Now he learned also that even the orphanage would be 
closed. Because the famine had passed, leaving only the usual 
excesses of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, the board thought 
that there was no need for it to continue. The present occupants 
would be well cared for, he was assured. They would be sent to 
school, given religious training, and surely some of them would 
become useful servants of the church. Brother Rambo must under¬ 
stand that the orphanage as he had conceived it had been but a 
temporary expedient. He did understand, perfectly. There would 
be no training in practical skills to make them independent of 
charity or foreign subsidy. No matter what their talents and inter¬ 
ests, they would be squeezed into one mold—preacher, 
evangelist—or, if they refused, they would be shunted off into a 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


37 


society in which only superior skill in some craft or profession 
could bring release from dire poverty. 

“We won't go back," he told Kate in a decision as sudden and 
final as the impulse that had taken them to India just forty-seven 
days after their marriage. "I don't think I could bear to see it all lost 
and be unable to lift a finger. We—we'll stay here and take a 
church. At least—" His voice broke, unable to continue. At least, 
he had been about to add, he would be far enough away so that he 
need not actually witness the disintegration of his dreams. 

Kate was as grieved as he, yet the grief was tempered with relief. 
"At least," she finished for him, "we will be nearer to care for 
Philip if he needs us." For in spite of his fine qualities of mind and 
disposition, the health of their oldest son had long been a concern 
to both of them. Whether his fall from the tree had been the cause 
or the result of the tendency to epileptic seizures, he had given 
them much occasion for worry through the years. 

So it was decided. Eagle accepted the call to pastor a church in 
Alma, Nebraska. The two boys would be left to finish a year in 
school in Harriman, Tennessee, and then they would join the 
family. But for Eagle Rambo it was like having a vital member of his 
body cut off. 

Forty years later his son Victor would see his father's philosophy 
vindicated in at least one instance. A man about his own age came 
to him in India. 

"Remember me? I was in the orphanage at Damoh. I'd like to tell 
you something." 

Learning the man's name, Victor remembered him well. "What 
do you want to tell me?" 

"Your father," the man said, "wanted me to choose a profession. 
He asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him I wanted 
tailoring. So he opened up a place for me in the tailoring class. I 
was happy and settled. Then suddenly I was called into the mis¬ 
sion office and told that I was to learn preaching. I tried to beg off. I 
knew I was no good at leading meetings or being more than a 
worshiper. I belonged to Jesus as a tailor. But, Sahib, I had to go to 
the theological school, and now forty years have passed, and I 
have had a job all the time as an 'evangelist.' I have brought only 
one person to Jesus Christ in all these years, and I have always 
wanted to be a tailor. If only your father had come back to Damoh!" 

If only he had come back to India! Victor amended silently. 

He could understand why his father had acted as he did. He had 
often been tempted to sever connection with mission and hospital 
boards himself—might have if, like his father, all he had worked 



38 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


for had been in jeopardy. Yet looking back, Victor concluded that 
Eagle's decision to refuse another appointment had been a mis¬ 
take. Although he had become a successful and devoted minister 
in many churches, until he died his heart had been in India. He had 
agonized over the closing not only of his orphanage but also of the 
young girls' work in Deogarh and Mahoba. By conforming with 
mission policy, no matter what the work assigned, he could at least 
have maintained contact with some of the orphans he had saved 
from starvation, found other young persons to help toward useful 
maturity, and perhaps with patient prodding even broadened the 
vision of his superiors. But William Eagle Rambo, like his son, was 
neither patient nor a conformist. 

The boys had been met at the station in Harriman, Tennessee, 
and taken to an institution called American University, where they 
were assigned to the grade school division. Philip was thirteen, 
Victor eleven. They cried themselves to sleep the first night but 
with the resilience of boyhood settled fairly happily into the new 
routine, for the most part compliant with the school's motto, 
"Every day's lesson mastered every day." 

On the weekly holiday, Monday, because the town children had 
Saturday off, the boys were allowed an incredible degree of free¬ 
dom, and Victor took full advantage of this new opportunity to 
"run away to adventure." He did not go alone. The boys were 
turned loose in groups, given a bag of sandwiches, fruit, and a 
sweet, and permitted to go where fancy led. The adventure would 
begin with a bargaining session for sandwiches. "Ham for a jam!" 
"Jam for a ham!" "Cheese for a jam!" and so on. Off they went into 
the enchanting country of the Emery River Valley, with hills and 
rills, woods and farms, and cliffs high enough to frighten, hon¬ 
eycombed with caves. 

Victor belonged to a group whose members called themselves 
the "Dare Devil Den," and some of their exploits lived up to the 
name. They courted thrill and danger. Going to Harriman Junc¬ 
tion, where the Nashville Express roared through a tunnel, they 
would cling to its sides when the train passed, pinned precariously 
in the swirling currents of air. There was a cave near the tunnel, its 
entrance descending almost vertically about eight feet into the 
rock. Scrambling down, they would eat their lunches in this 
sanctum. Once as they were emerging they heard a heavy thud 
behind and were enveloped in a cloud of powdered soil. Looking 
back, they saw that an enormous part of the roof had fallen just 
where they had been sitting. Ashen-faced and silent, they made 
straight for the school with none of the usual detours. 

But the experience was no deterrent, and Victor was in the 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


39 


forefront, if not the instigator, of such escapades. One of the boys' 
favorite sports was riding the cowcatcher of the shunting engine 
from Harriman Junction to Harriman. Of course this was illegal, 
and, reports of the misdemeanor having reached the authorities, a 
detachment of grim policemen was waiting one Monday evening 
as they returned. Victor saw them first, jumped off the moving 
train, sprinted away among trees and boulders, and then mean¬ 
dered about until the coast seemed clear, when he sneaked quietly 
into the dormitory and shut himself in his room. He knew better 
than to thank God for his escape. His reaction was just a fervent 
"Gee whiz!" 

"How did you get away?" demanded his companions, all of 
whom had been taken to the police station, sternly cautioned, and 
thoroughly frightened. 

"Easy," he replied with more apology than triumph. "I just saw 
trouble coming, jumped, and flew." 

Physical agility was also the inspiration of an unusual talent 
acquired during the year at Harriman. Victor was especially in¬ 
trigued by the minstrel shows that were put on in the community 
but that he could not attend by normal methods because he had no 
money to purchase a ticket. The only way he could gain entrance 
was by maneuvering around a big curtain five minutes after the 
show started and being hauled in by some kindly confederate. He 
was enchanted by the rhythmic motions of the dancers, and back 
in the dormitory he tried to imitate the steps. To his delight and that 
of his schoolmates, he found that he had a natural talent for tap 
dancing, or, as he called it, jigging. Toes and heels worked together 
like clockwork. On a bare floor or table, with a pair of shoes that 
could respond to a striking beat, he could perform almost like a 
professional. Coupled with an innate instinct for showmanship, it 
was to become a lifetime source of enjoyment for himself and his 
friends. 

Had their sons' letters been as descriptive of extracurricular 
activities as of studies. Eagle and Kate might well have questioned 
their decision to exchange India's hazards for the benefits of 
superior education. The separation was hard enough to bear 
without the burden of additional worry. 

To Kate the new home in America seemed like a return to Eden, 
but not for its security and comfort, and certainly not for the 
wedding presents, minus china, that had waited in her sisters' care 
for more than a dozen years. After feeding and clothing homeless 
and starving orphans, such things were unimportant. But the new 
home meant that after that first year the family was once more 
together. 



40 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Victor finished his year in Harriman successfully except for 
deficiencies in grammar and spelling, which would always be 
difficult for him, and both boys entered school in Alma. Spelling 
continued to haunt him, for in the spelling bees that ran through 
the year he would be constantly moving up, then plummeting to 
the bottom. "This Friday," he would vow, "Tm going to really get 
to the top of the line." Then down he would go on some word, 
simple or complicated, it did not matter which. Only on the last 
day of school did he manage to reach the head. 

Mathematics, too, was not his best subject. As treasurer of the 
Sunday school in Alma, his accounts never balanced, and his 
father made up the $1.70 book deficit when the office was turned 
over to someone else. It was a profitable experience, for it taught 
him never to overspend, an invaluable policy for future years 
when he would be responsible for a constantly growing work with 
limited funds. "No money, no spending" became his motto. Yet 
always there somehow would be the wherewithal for every work¬ 
er's salary. 

Instead of "running away to adventure" now, he simply ran. 
Seeing his lanky figure loping along the streets in the manner that 
in the far future would be called "jogging," the townspeople stared 
in amazement. "We really thought it rather strange," a woman 
friend confessed later, "and wondered why you were running. 
Now we know it was to keep fit." She was only partly right. He ran 
from sheer exuberance, excess of energy, and joy of living. 

But there was a long period when he did no running, for while in 
Alma he became, literally, like John Wesley before him, a "brand 
plucked from the burning." It happened on the Fourth of July, 
1907. The boys had a cardboard carton of white "bang" tablets that 
were used in a special contraption on the end of a broomstick to 
create a mild explosion. Victor found a tin box that looked just the 
right size to hold the tablets, and after transferring them he put the 
whole thing in his pocket. The chemicals, safe enough in 
cardboard but rubbed dangerously by the edges of tin, erupted 
into violent fire, igniting his clothes. He ran screaming into his 
father's office; then, driven to panic by the pain, turned from his 
father and ran through the house, creating even more blistering 
flames. Catching up with him in the kitchen, his father seized his 
pants and ripped them off, thereby undoubtedly saving his life. 
Victor's upper thigh was badly burned. He spent forty days in bed, 
attended by a sympathetic doctor who hurt him "like hell" but was 
so kindly with his "I am so sorry to do this but I must" that even the 
torturing peroxide, a remedy of dubious value later, was robbed of 
some of its sting. The experience left him with a scar the size of a 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


41 


man's hand and a memory that would shape his concept of a good 
physician for the rest of his life. 

Was it homesickness for India that kept Eagle restless, seemingly 
forever seeking some new medium of fulfillment? Or was it 
perhaps nostalgia for his boyhood on the Missouri farm, turned to 
such effective use in the orphanage work, that fostered a yearning 
to return to the land? Whatever the reason, although he was an 
inspired preacher and much beloved pastor, he remained in Alma 
only two years. With a legacy from his father, a fortune it seemed, 
he decided to buy land and settle on a farm in Idaho. In that 
pioneer country there would be as much opportunity for 
evangelism as in the villages of India. 

Victor remained in Alma to finish the eighth grade, but he shared 
in the excitement of the family's exodus in March 1908. They were 
to be real pioneers. Eagle had purchased a buggy and wagon and 
four horses that were to go with them on the Union Pacific railway, 
he and the boys feeding and caring for the animals along the way. 
But they were not to reach Idaho. On the train, crossing eastern 
Wyoming, Eagle made the acquaintance of a persuasive land 
salesman who painted a glowing picture of a utopia. 

"Idaho? Why go way out there when we've got something better 
right here? Eden Valley it's called, and I tell you it's a real Garden of 
Eden. Fifty miles north of Rock Springs, up toward Wind River 
country, they're building a big irrigation system, supposed to 
become operative in a few months, maybe in time for spring 
planting. I tell you, it's going to change the world up there, bring 
prosperity to everybody with the guts to seize the opportunity. 
Your children will have everything!" 

Eagle was easily persuaded. The six hundred miles already 
traveled seemed interminable, with nothing but uncertainty at the 
end of hundreds yet to go. The prospect of riches did not tempt 
him, but the promise of good, irrigated land did. He was trusting if 
not gullible, and the picture of a "valley of Eden" was irresistible. 
They all left the train at Rock Springs, a coal mining town with a 
hotel, a hospital, and good stores. Taking the horses, cart, buggy, 
and sufficient provisions for the fifty-mile trip, the Rambos headed 
north. Remembering a journey long ago in an ox cart through 
swirling waters, as well as innumerable jaunts in dandys, bullock 
bandies, and rickshaws, Kate found the bone-shaking fifty miles 
into virgin country not merely routine but instead exciting. Re¬ 
stored almost fully to health, she was ready once more to pioneer. 

In Alma Victor lived with Robert L. Keester, a lawyer, and his 
wife, Nell, church friends with a limitless capacity for love and 
hospitality. During his forty days in bed the previous year, Nell had 



42 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


helped Kate nurse him back to health. "She was as lovely as Jesus," 
he was to say of her later, "for she knew Him intimately." Graduat¬ 
ing from the eighth grade that June, he left to join the family. His 
father met him at Rock Springs and they drove to Farson, which 
was to be his home for the next five years. 

He found a little three-room shack built by his father with the 
help of friendly neighbors. Its boards were covered with tar paper, 
and it had a stove for cooking and heating and bunks for sleeping, 
the boys on one side, their parents and Helen on the other. The 
house was on a plateau, about a hundred yards from a bank that 
descended to a valley, through which ran the Little Sandy River. 
Everywhere there was sagebrush except in one small area where 
Eagle, Philip, and Huber had cleared the sand away with the 
horses, Tom, Jerry, Jack, and Ranger. There they planted potatoes. 
The four horses were as varied in personality as people: Jerry was 
the safest, steadiest, and most friendly; Tom was jumpy and ner¬ 
vous, nearly leaping out of his harness at the slightest touch; Jack 
was lazy but dependable; his partner. Ranger, was impulsive. Later 
Eagle bought two more horses. Pearl and Irene. 

Utopia? Eden? Hardly. It was more like being exiled from that 
garden of abundance, condemned to toil in cursed ground and eat 
bread by the sweat of one's brow. Not that the family objected to 
toil and sweat or was at all unhappy. Eagle labored from dawn to 
dark completing their crude house and bam, coaxing crops out of 
the dry soil. His legacy was soon exhausted in the purchase of 
land, tools, wagons, and horses. Faithfully he applied his long 
experience in farming, but the high, dry earth of southwestern 
Wyoming was far from the well-watered plains of Missouri and 
Nebraska, and the promised irrigation system took years to com¬ 
plete. Kate was a seemingly endless source of love and energy, the 
cohesive magic welding the struggling family together. Although 
faced with conditions as primitive as those in India and with no 
servants—no bhisti to carry water, no dhobi to wash clothes, no 
sweeper, cook, or bearer—during all the five years she uttered no 
word of complaint. And not for years had she been so strong and 
healthy. 

The first winter was a foretaste of those to come—snow, cold, 
but beauty outside and warmth of glowing fires within. Their only 
fuel was sagebrush, with an occasional bag of coal, but even when 
the temperature went down to forty below, the little house was 
never cold. Victor avowed one could hear the squeaking of the cart 
wheels on packed snow a mile away. To get forage the horses often 
had to paw the snow away from the dry, frozen grass of the Little 
Sandy Creek Valley. The boys broke ice in the creek for their 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


43 


drinking water, the purity of which they took for granted, unfortu¬ 
nately not boiling it as in India; it was doubtless the source of the 
typhoid fever that Dorothy Helen contracted and from which she 
never fully recovered. 

Food was barely adequate for subsistence: there were potatoes 
and vegetables they had been able to grow and eggs from the flock 
of hens until a weasel got into the chicken coop and killed every 
bird. Then, thanks to the constant freeze, the chickens were pre¬ 
served for eating. But the killing frost was not always such a 
blessing. One year they managed to get a good crop of potatoes. A 
bulletin from the Agriculture Department said that if they could be 
buried to a certain depth they would not freeze. Holes were dug as 
directed, the potatoes were buried deep, and every one froze solid. 
Frozen potatoes! What tasteless mush! 

However, Eagle's more important plantings thrived. From the 
beginning he had gathered a small congregation of believers, and it 
was growing. Services were held on the second story of the village 
meeting house, over the hall used for dances, socials, and town 
meetings. He published articles in the church paper. The Christian 
Standard , urging other members of the faith to join him in Eden 
Valley. Always the optimist, he was certain the promise that had 
brought him there would soon be fulfilled. With water the dry soil 
would spring forth with abundance. 

During the five years in Eden Valley, Victor grew from boyhood 
into manhood. He learned, not in school, but from tutors as expert 
in imparting knowledge as teachers of math and spelling. He 
learned in the potato fields, where he was soon recognized as the 
best potato "eye dropper" in that part of Wyoming—at least in his 
own estimation. He learned about horses. He drove them, plowed 
with them, fed and curried them, rode them without a saddle—all 
but Irene, who with Pearl had come from a farm thirty-five miles 
north, up in the Wind River Mountains. Nobody had ever been 
able to ride Irene. But one time when they went to Rock Springs, 
Victor decided, "She's getting older now. I'll try her. "He got on her 
back. She looked around at him with a twinkle in her eye and 
threw him, straight onto a manure pile five feet high, unhurt 
except for clothes and dignity. 

He also learned from books in the little library in Farson, a 
hundred of them read in the first three years. He reveled in the 
world of adventure with Cooper and Jack London and pored by 
lamplight over magazines like the Saturday Evening Post apd St. 
Nicholas . He learned from roaming a wide, free, wonderful country 
grazed by thousands of sheep and spotted with deer. 

He was forced to learn by the demand to face dire emergencies 



44 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


with courage, as when his father broke his leg. They were starting 
on the trip home from 14 Mile House to Farson when it happened. 
The small store in Farson was ill-equipped, and it was necessary to 
go to Rock Springs for most supplies like shoes, clothing, coffee, 
and flour. On such a trip there was also a possibility of bringing 
back goods for the Farson store that helped pay the expenses of 
travel. This time Victor and his father had been to the big town 
alone and had stopped overnight at 14 Mile House, the only build¬ 
ing on the whole fifty-mile trail. The next morning, when they 
were ready to start. Ranger, one of the two pole horses, balked at 
putting his shoulder into the collar. Eagle, sitting on the seat at the 
front of the box wagon, reached down and gave the horse a swift 
prod with his foot. To Victor's horror the startled beast kicked, 
planting his hoofs against the wagon bed, one of them on his 
father's lower leg. Both bones were broken. A gang of men putting 
up the first telephone line from Rock Springs to Farson sprang into 
action. One of the team made a rough splint out of boards from 
commissary boxes. Eagle had to be taken to Rock Springs Hospital. 
But how? The family buggy was at Eden Valley, and there was no 
spring wagon in the place, only a buckboard. It had to do. Eagle 
was laid on straw and blankets in the bottom. Tom and Jerry were 
hitched to it, and Victor drove. It was an agonizing trip for both, 
Victor trying desperately to avoid the deepest ruts and travel as 
swiftly yet as smoothly as possible, his father suffering torture, 
with every jounce crushing his bones on each other at the break. 
They reached the hospital at about five o'clock on the summer 
afternoon. 

"Can you pay for the treatment?" was the first question. No. But 
there was only a moment's hesitation. They took him in, and the 
doctor came immediately. 

"When you get word that my leg has been set," ordered Eagle, 
"take Tom and Jerry and start back to 14 Mile House, change 
horses, and go right on to Farson. Tell Mother I'm all right." Word 
had been taken to her of the accident by people going to Farson, 
and they knew she would worry. 

Victor took a hasty meal at a Chinese restaurant, saw that the 
horses were fed, and started off in the evening. By ten he had 
reached 14 Mile House. There he changed the buckboard for the 
farm wagon, hitched Jack and Ranger to it, and started off on the 
remaining thirty-six miles. Having had no rest, he became unbear¬ 
ably sleepy and awoke to find the wagon on the flat by Little Sandy 
Creek. Fortunately the horses had taken the circuitous route down 
from the highland. Otherwise they would have plunged over the 
edge of a cliff. He arrived home at dawn. Mother was calm and 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


45 


understanding. She fed him porridge and insisted that he rest. He 
crawled into his bunk to sleep for a good twenty-four hours. Father 
recovered with no sign of crippling, and nothing was ever charged 
or paid for his care. Was it only one day and one night? They had 
seemed like many years. But a boy grew to manhood quickly in 
such a world. 

Victor was doing a man's job at sixteen, earning money that the 
family so desperately needed. The company constructing the irri¬ 
gation canals needed a water boy, and Victor was hired, acquiring 
further education both in backbreaking labor and in the exposure 
to obscene language. Each worker tried to outdo his neighbor in 
watching the minister's son squirm. True, they treated him with 
kindness, even respect, but their language and lewd stories, far 
filthier than the gali of his Indian childhood, became indelibly 
etched in his memory. Although he never used them, he felt guilt 
just for remembering. 

That job was only temporary, and soon he got a more permanent 
one driving a fresno, a kind of elongated metal basket with a 
cutting edge that could pick up earth, then dump it for construc¬ 
tion of an irrigation ditch. Unfortunately he listened to com- 
plainers who insisted the seven-dollars-a-day pay was not 
enough. They persuaded him to join in a slowdown tactic. He was 
fired. But he had to work because the family needed what he could 
earn, just to eat. 

He went to Rock Springs, and the Congregational minister 
whose church the family sometimes attended recommended him 
for a job in the hospital to which he had taken his father. He was 
made an orderly at a dollar a day plus board and room. Every cent 
went to his family. All that he had was theirs as a matter of course. 

His first assignment in the operating room was a dizzy blur. 
When the surgery started he turned green, and the surgeon sent 
him outside. He stood at the door of the hospital, swaying and 
gulping great drafts of air. But it was the last time such a thing 
happened. He soon proved to be a valuable assistant. His reputa¬ 
tion for keeping bedpans clean surpassed that of any previous 
worker—early evidence of a perfectionist in sanitation. 

The one resident doctor interning in the hospital taught him all 
the commonest and many more-specialized procedures, like 
catheterization. He also saved Victor's eyesight. One day Victor 
was getting pure phenol out of a bottle when a glob of the liquid 
shot into one of his eyes. There he stood, helpless, not knowing 
what to do. Forever he would be grateful to the young resident 
who seized him by the ears, dragged him to the sink in which the 
bedpans were washed, turned him over face up, and started the 



46 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


water running. He washed and washed and washed, lifting the 
upper lid so that the whole conjunctive sac was bathed in the 
cleansing stream. By evening the eye was only slightly smarting. In 
the morning Victor would hardly have known the accident had 
happened. Had the young resident but known it, he had saved the 
sight of not one but tens of thousands of people. 

It was only a month or two after this incident that the young 
doctor left the hospital, and Victor found himself performing many 
of his duties. He was frequently called to assist in the operating 
room, especially with emergencies at midnight, when he could 
always be depended on to come promptly, scrub up thoroughly, 
and execute orders with reasonable efficiency. He learned to re¬ 
cognize and handle the different surgical knives and other instru¬ 
ments. He was put in complete charge of the catheterization of 
paraplegics and gained a reputation in those preantibiotic days of 
preventing the infections and pressure sores common to such 
patients. He discovered to his surprise that he enjoyed caring for 
the sick. 

"Could I attend some of the nursing classes?" he asked the 
superintendent. 

"Why, of course you can," was the pleased reply. 

He did so, attending every class available, a discipline that 
proved of inestimable value in years to come. He experienced a 
sense of the comfort and well-being of the patient that only nursing 
could generate. But fully as pertinent to his future as the practical 
knowledge attained was another discovery, the potential of prayer 
and spiritual empathy in the ministry of healing. As he was to put 
the experience into words long afterward, "Calling upon God for 
help that no human being can give, leading the patient to receive 
from his illness the gift of patience that only illness can give, to help 
patients understand and trust Holy Reason that deals with us in 
illness as found nowhere else except in the realm of dire difficulty 
or medical-surgical failure—this is the province of earnest prayer." 

He was within two months of graduating from the nursing 
course with a registered nurse's certificate when his life changed 
abruptly. 

For Eagle the five years in Eden Valley had been a detour from 
the mainstream of life. The promise of a garden of abundance 
remained unrealized. Although he had conducted an aggressive 
and somewhat productive ministry in the valley, the grueling 
struggle for subsistence had left little time for pastoral care. He 
missed the deep involvement with people and their problems. 
There were other worries too. The children were not getting an 
adequate education. Although she never complained, Kate was 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


47 


performing labors that should have taxed the energies of two 
strong women. And the weakness of Dorothy Helen following her 
long bout with typhoid sounded a warning bell of the dangers of 
pioneer life. Dr. Chambers had willingly traveled the fifty miles 
from Rock Springs to attend her, never sending any bill, but the 
distance from medical help was alarming. When in 1913 Eagle 
received a call to a pastorate in Emmett, Idaho, hope sprang anew. 
Had they not been on the way to Idaho when, for good or ill, they 
had turned aside? Perhaps, like the Children of Israel, it was meant 
that they should spend this time of testing and discipline in the 
wilderness before being led to the promised land. 

Emmett was only a few miles from Boise. Somehow Victor's 
reputation as a medical assistant preceded him. No sooner had he 
arrived than he was called to Boise on a nursing case. "Will you 
take a man with delirium tremens to Portland?" he was asked. 
"The pay will be nine dollars a day." Would he! It seemed a fortune. 
Mr. Johnson was a wealthy bar owner who had succumbed to the 
temptations of his business. Victor took him to a nursing home in 
Portland and cared for him until he died. Here he was soon recog¬ 
nized as a competent nurse with unusual devotion to his patient, 
and he was caring for other patients as well, often on twenty- 
four-hour duty. 

But during his father's pastorate in Emmett he also started his 
high school studies, determined to finish in as short a time as 
possible. Because of his wide reading, most subjects were easily 
mastered—except Latin, two years of which were required. An 
obliging teacher offered to tutor him. In March 1914 his father was 
called to the pastorate of the First Christian Church in Chehalis, 
Washington, where Victor was to remain until September 1915. 
Here he was able to finish his high school course, having com¬ 
pleted it in two years and three months. 

It was a time to be treasured in memory, perhaps with a sensing 
that it was the last year the family would be together, a time of 
well-being, of security, the years of deprivation having passed. 
Dorothy Helen, whose sickness had had a long aftermath of 
chronic weakness, seemed to be improving. She was able to attend 
grade school. Victor would wait to walk with her, adjusting to her 
slow pace, delighting in her joyous spirit that suffering, which she 
accepted cheerfully and without the slightest sign of worry, had 
been unable to quell. 

Victor was twenty-one when he finished high school. He had no 
job, no plans, and certainly no expectation of going to college. 
Then came one of those occurrences that he was later to call a 
"wondhap"—not a miracle, which would imply transcendence of 



48 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


a known law of nature, but a wonderful happening that depends 
on and is not contrary to the known or unknown laws of God. Yet 
to a person like Victor, who believed thoroughly in the admonition 
to "pray without ceasing/' it was a certain indication of the pres¬ 
ence of God and of His guidance. It might come in many forms— 
coincidence, a meeting with a stranger, an unexpected trip, or a 
chance conversation. This time it was a letter. 

His mother's sister. Aunt Flora Colby Clough, was dean of 
women and professor of English at Fairmount College, Wichita, 
Kansas. Victor did not know her well. He had met her in New 
Hampshire the summer they had returned from India, but since 
then the families had been widely separated. 

"Come to Wichita," she wrote, "and I will help you get through 
college." 

The jumbled puzzle pieces of his life began to fall into place. The 
discipline of hard labor; the struggle for an education at an age 
when most young men were long through high school; and espe¬ 
cially the endless hours at meager pay in the general hospital, 
discovering an innate joy in watching by a sickbed, giving ease to a 
sufferer, assisting at midnight operations, even scouring into close 
to sterile cleanliness a dirty bedpan — all became segments of a 
well-defined pattern. It was inevitable that he should become a 
doctor. 



3 


F airmount! The very name was full of promise, like standing on 
a high hill overlooking sunlit vistas. Victor arrived late, after 
classes had started. Dorothy Helen had suffered a relapse that 
summer of 1915, with severe edema, and he had postponed leaving 
home. But after some time in the hospital in Portland, she had 
recovered sufficiently to return to Chehalis, and the family had 
decided it was safe for him to leave. He had scarcely arrived and 
enrolled in classes when on October 18 he received a telegram 
telling of her death. The skies turned dark, the promising vistas a 
wasteland separating him from those he loved. He could not afford 
to go home, even for her funeral. So much loveliness went out of 
his world with her blithe and joyous spirit. Yet it was not for 
himself that he felt the deepest grief, but for his parents. He knew 
that Kate would miss her only daughter every day for the rest of 
her life. 

But the routine of college demanded all his energies. The pre¬ 
medical course was rigorous in its discipline. Arriving late, it was 
all he could do to keep pace with his assignments. Aunt Flora 
Clough, who had secured a scholarship for him and was paying his 
other bills, was a strict but kindly mentor. As dean of women and 
head of the English department, she had raised the morale of the 
college to high standards, sending out into the world many women 
of superior mental and spiritual caliber. Victor was to meet one of 
them later in Madras, Mrs. Marie Buck, who with her husband, 
Crowe Buck, started the first physical training school in all Asia. 
Aunt Flora was as sternly vigilant of her nephew's lifestyle as she 
was of that of her women charges. 

"If you ever get mixed up in anything questionable," she ad¬ 
monished, "out you go, and I won't support you." 

Victor nodded soberly "Anything questionable," he knew, re¬ 
ferred to indiscreet adventures with the other sex, and she was in a 
position to hear of the slightest indiscretion. But she need not have 
worried. His standards of behavior were as high as her own, and 

49 


50 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


anyway, if he was going to study medicine, he would have no time 
for women. 

He managed to find time, however, for some extracurricular 
activities. Always competitive, he aspired for prowess in athletics 
and went out for football; but he succeeded only in playing center 
on the scrub team and in learning how to fall without hurting 
himself. His chief service to athletics was acting as trainer, rubbing 
down charley horses for ailing runners and football players. 
Equally mediocre was his single attempt to storm the citadel of 
drama. His status as nephew of a famous aunt gave him an unde¬ 
served reputation as a master of English, and he was given a part in 
a Shakespeare sketch. Never could he remember the correct word¬ 
ing, and his poor paraphrase elicited kindly but summary dis¬ 
missal to the wings. There ended all opportunity of entering the 
world of theater. 

It was a small loss. He preferred living heroes to dead ones, and 
he found them all around him. There were teachers who in¬ 
fluenced him profoundly: his aunt, Flora Clough; Dean Hoare; and 
Doctor Smith in chemistry, a man of humor as well as keen intel¬ 
lect. (A student once called him "Doc." "Don't call me 'Doc,'" he 
retorted. "I am no horse.") Dr. Walter Scott Priest, minister of the 
church he attended, gave Victor constant inspiration and 
encouragement. And the world came to Fairmount and Christian 
Central Church. Fairmount College, later to become part of Wichita 
State University, was an institution that sent men and women all 
over the world for service. Missionaries came from many coun¬ 
tries, describing their experiences and winning recruits. One 
couple, Merrill Isley and his wife, had done valiant work in Turkey. 
Attending one of their meetings, Victor found himself staring at a 
Student Volunteer card that Merrill had placed in his hand. 

"It is my purpose, God permit," he read, "to become a foreign 
missionary." There was a place below for a signature. 

Suddenly it seemed as if he had been walking along a blind path, 
trusting in God's guidance but not knowing where it led. Now all 
at once he emerged into sunlight with a straight road ahead. Of 
course. All his experience had been preparing him for this moment 
of challenge. Purposes that heretofore had been vague and uncer¬ 
tain now came into clear focus. He signed his name without hesita¬ 
tion. 

Such a commitment demanded the best of which one was capa¬ 
ble. An uncle by marriage. Dr. Harry Hickok, was a surgeon. 
"Where," Victor asked him, "are the best medical schools in the 
country?" The University of Michigan and the University of Penn¬ 
sylvania, was the reply. The University of Michigan required inor- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


51 


ganic chemistry for entrance, a course given by the University of 
Pennsylvania in the first year. Both required a modem language. 
Better the language than the chemistry, Victor decided. He applied 
to the University of Pennsylvania and was accepted. Now for the 
language. Deciding on German as more helpful to a doctor, he 
found a young teacher who agreed to tutor him. She was not only 
competent but also attractive, and he easily could have fallen in 
love with her; but he expressed his emotional feeling in neither 
word nor gesture. 

He could have no time for women except in casual 
encounters—at church meetings, songfests, hay wagon picnics, 
and in stimulating conversations in the Webster Literary Society. 
The nearest he came to actually falling in love was with another 
student, Louise Burch. That he inspired similar emotion in her and 
possibly false hopes was implied in a letter written to him by his 
Aunt Flora in the fall of 1917. 

"Louise has sent a letter. I knew whatever happened you would 
respect her attempt to make things right. She has been utterly 
miserable, unable to study or put her mind on anything. I hope you 
have written her. No one knows in what direction happiness lies 
for another. Each must choose." 

There had been no misunderstanding. The girl had just wrongly 
supposed that something she had said or done, or not said or not 
done, was responsible for his not seeking a more serious relation¬ 
ship. Happiness? That was not his concern. Study, recite, pass that 
exam, study even though you are dog-tired, rejoice momentarily 
over a 94 grade in physics, but always study, the sole objective 
being to prepare for a missionary career by becoming a doctor. 
How? He had no money, and he would need eight hundred dollars 
for his first year in medical school. Then at the end of his college 
course came hope in the promise of a Mr. Johnson, superintendent 
of the Sunday school at Central Christian Church. 

"Go ahead, Victor," he told him. "Register in medical school. I 
will see that the eight hundred dollars is raised for your first year." 

With high hope Victor left for Oregon to visit his parents, now 
ministering to a church in Klamath Falls. He spent that summer 
working as an axeman on a surveying crew in the forests of Ore¬ 
gon. It was wonderful to be back in this northwest country of high 
trees where, look up as far as you could, then lean back and look 
some more, still you could not see the tops. He finished the 
summer with a body sufficiently toughened to face a year of rigor¬ 
ous study and barely enough money to buy a coach railroad ticket 
to Philadelphia by way of Wichita. But he had no worries. Arriving 
in Wichita, however, he found to his surprise that not a cent of the 



52 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


promised fund had been raised. Another member of the church, 
Mr. Jackson, president of the Wichita Flour Mills, heard of his 
predicament and gave him twenty-five dollars. 

"I will give you another twenty-five dollars at Christmas," he 
promised. 

What was he to do? Victor's faith, usually impregnable, was 
sorely tested. Start out on a four-to-six year course with empty 
pockets, trusting that the wherewithal would drop, like manna, 
from heaven? It seemed the brashest presumption. But he had the 
railroad ticket, all paid for. He would go to Philadelphia. 

Arriving in the evening, he called on Mr. Chenowith, minister of 
the First Christian Church, with whom he had corresponded and 
who made arrangements for him to spend the night at the City 
Club. The next morning Victor went to the university campus, 
where he met Dr. Joseph Smith, professor of pathology and dean 
of the medical school, who helped him through the enrollment 
procedure. Everything went like clockwork—except for one thing. 
He had to have four hundred dollars to pay tuition for his first year. 
Mr. Chenowith advised him to consult Dana How, secretary of the 
university Christian Association. "He may be able to advise you," 
he said with an encouraging smile. 

Advise! It was money he needed, not advice. By now his meager 
capital of twenty-five dollars had shrunk to a mere ten. The blind 
faith that had buoyed him on the long train trip from Wichita and 
carried him with brash optimism through the signing up for 
courses was slowly shrinking with it. Eight hundred dollars! It 
seemed as unattainable as a million. Still, he knew he must 
doggedly persist. He found Dana How to be a kindly, understand- 
ing person who listened sympathetically to his story. 

"Am I a fool," Victor demanded bluntly, "to think of going to 
medical school with only ten dollars in my pocket?" 

Dana How looked him straight in the eye. "Victor," he said, "if 
you have faith, you can stay." 

Victor's eyes wavered. "I—I'll be back,'' he said. 

He went from the association office the short distance to his 
room on Sansom Street. He shut the door and knelt beside the bed. 
Mr. How had not even mentioned money. All he had talked about 
was faith. "Give me faith. Lord," Victor prayed. "Give me enough 
faith. A few minutes later he was on his feet, opening the door 
wide, hurrying out to Sansom Street, almost running back to the 
Christian Association office. 

'I m going to stay," he told Dana How, and this time his eyes did 
not waver. 

"Right." The response was swift and reassuring. "We have 





APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


53 


books in our loan library which you may use. If you will go to this 
building on Walnut Street"—he gave him the number—"They 
will arrange to give you breakfast for waiting on table an hour 
in the morning, the same for lunch and dinner. That will take care 
of your meals. As for the rest, we'll just have to keep on trusting." 

Neither of them could have guessed it, but Dana How had just 
become the first member of what was to be known as the "Rambo 
Committee," an organization that was to grow like an Indian 
banyan tree, thrusting down roots, overspreading the earth, and 
giving comfort to tens of thousands. 

Mr. Chenowith solved another of Victor's problems, arranging 
for him to work as janitor for the temporary meeting place of the 
First Christian Church, a storefront building on Broad Street near 
Erie Avenue, a job that would pay enough to cover room and 
laundry. He would go on the street cars, into center city and out 
Broad Street to Erie, a journey that took some time from his new 
room on 34th Street and Walnut in West Philadelphia. His work 
required several hours on Thursday evenings and Sunday morn¬ 
ings. Now all he needed was the four hundred dollars for his actual 
medical school fees. 

At Dr. Joseph Smith's suggestion he consulted the dean's bro¬ 
ther, Dr. Edgar Fahs Smith, provost of the university. Because he 
knew the interview might mean success or failure, Victor was 
awkward, almost tongue-tied. Haltingly he explained that he was 
a Student Volunteer for missions, that he wanted to be a doctor so 
he could render more useful service in whatever place he might be 
needed most. The provost listened quietly. "Sit down, son," he 
said presently. Victor did so and became more at ease. They talked 
for perhaps ten minutes about his early life in India, his family, and 
his religious commitment. 

"Come back on Saturday," said Dr. Smith, rising with a gesture 
of dismissal. 

That was Wednesday. There was no time for worry. Already 
Victor was taking a full course of study and waiting on tables three 
hours a day. When at ten he quit studying for the day, almost 
before he could say, "Thank you, God, I had a good meal at the 
boarding house," he was wrapped in sleep. He went back on 
Saturday, wondering, but faith still unwavering. Dr. Smith rose 
from his desk and led him to an adjacent room in which there was a 
window like a bank teller's. Putting his hand on Victor's shoulder, 
he said to the woman behind the window, "This man is Victor 
Rambo, and he is worthy of a scholarship." It was as if God 
Himself had touched him and said, "You are worthy." Soon he was 
holding in his hand a slip of paper and reading the words, "This 



54 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


entitles the bearer, Victor C. Rambo, to cancellation of all fees 
except the $10 for athletics for the year 1917-1918, and on passing 
his examinations a similar scholarship for the next four years/' 

"Take this to the dean of the medical school," Dr. Smith directed, 
"and you will have no difficulty." A miracle? No. Another "wond- 
hap." 

Although the solution of his financial problems gave Victor 
assurance that God had accepted his commitment, it was soon 
obvious that He had no intention of making the path of achieve¬ 
ment easy. That first year of medical school tested all his powers of 
endurance. Study was rigorous. It could well have occupied 
twelve or fifteen hours of each day. But in addition he had to wait 
on table three hours. He had to travel six miles by streetcar to the 
church at which he served as janitor. It was one of the bitterest 
winters in Philadelphia history, and Victor could afford nothing 
heavier than his thin overcoat. Thanks no doubt to the rigors of the 
Oregon forests, however, he suffered not even a cold. 

Yet life was not all work and study, for some form of athletics was 
required. He started with boxing but, unable to wear his glasses, 
got headaches. He switched to fencing. His teacher was Leonardo 
Terrone, an international champion who had devoted his life to 
perfection of this sport. Under this master, Victor developed such 
skill that he was able to make the university team for two of the four 
years he was in medical school. The same grace, swiftness, and 
coordination that had made jigging such a natural diversion soon 
made him a superior fencer, and he loved the sport. Thanks to 
Terrone's teaching he became as adept with one hand as with the 
other, a facility that was to prove of inestimable value in his surgical 
career. "Where's your point?" his instructor was constantly de¬ 
manding. Victor used his right hand largely for the saber, but after 
going into foils he used his left for all his competitions. Terrone had 
devised a foil of his own design, combining the advantages of the 
more rigid Italian grip with the greater flexibility of the French, and 
Victor had his own set that he later took to India with him. He won 
many competitions in the Philadelphia Club and always thought 
that he would have won first place in the college finals in New York 
if Terrone had not for once given the wrong advice. 

"Don't relax before a match. Keep your tensions so you will 
spring like a tiger on your opponent!" was Terrone's advice. 

Victor obeyed. After a long bus ride from Philadelphia, he went 
into the match without resting, still tense but very tired. At the 
crucial point of the match he failed and came out only second. But 
the defeat taught him an important lesson. In years to come he 
would always stretch out in complete relaxation before a long siege 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


55 


of operations. A more tangible memento of his athletic prowess 
was an ornate silver cup won just before his graduation at an 
amateur fencers' meet. There was also a gold medal given him by 
the Fencing Club of Philadelphia when he came back from India on 
his first furlough. 

At the end of his first year, Victor failed to pass anatomy class, 
but he could retake the examination in the fall. Fail again? He had 
to pass. He not only had to study hard that summer, but he also 
had to earn as much money as possible. It was war time, and he 
secured a job at seven dollars a day as ship carpenter at the 
Torresdale Shipyard. But far more significant than his earnings 
were the friendships he made that summer. One day, sitting at 
lunch, he met Morris Wistar Wood, another university student, 
who invited him to his home on School Lane in Germantown. 
While there he met the Woods' neighbors, Charles, Margaret, 
Isabelle, and Robert Haines, a family with whom he would be 
intimately involved during the next half century. The Haines's 
ancestral home, Wyck, a beautiful and historic mansion in Ger¬ 
mantown dating from 1690, would become a haven for him and his 
family through years of constant change. 

In the fall of 1918, Victor to his vast relief passed the anatomy 
examination. The war now became a controlling factor. Medical 
students had previously been exempt from service, but his whole 
class was now enrolled in the army. It was in one way a boon, for all 
expenses were covered. Uniforms were supplied. Kitchens were 
organized to provide meals. But military training was added to the 
roster of medical studies. The tedious process of marching was 
lightened, however, by moments of humorous relief. As the re¬ 
cruits would "right-left" smartly past the nurses' quarters by the 
hospital, there would always be curious watchers at the windows. 
"Eyes right'." the commanding officer liked to shout, and as the 
concerted glances turned gleefully in their direction, every face at 
the windows would disappear. 

With the end of the war in 1919, the class was discharged. Many 
who had entered medicine to avoid combat duty, at least 20 percent 
of the class, left. Victor was now facing his years of clinical training, 
even more rigorous than the preceding two. His money was gone. 
It would be far more difficult to wait on tables for his meals, and 
traveling six miles for janitorial duty was out of the question. Must 
he stay out for a year or more and work? Already he was twenty- 
five, with at least four more years of medical study, including 
internship. He begrudged every diversion that delayed the service 
to which he was dedicated. Then came another "wondhap." Wis¬ 
tar Wood's uncle Ned Wood, who was a volunteer worker with the 



56 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Christian Association, interceded with members of the Pennsyl¬ 
vania Medical Missionary Society who gave help to students enter¬ 
ing mission work, and they assigned Victor a stipend of four 
hundred dollars a year, enough to provide food and lodging 
through medical school. 

Jubilantly he applied himself with single-minded zest to his 
studies, resolving that nothing would impede progress toward his 
goal—not unrelated work, not recreation, and certainly not ro¬ 
mance. Not that he scorned friendly associations with girls or 
failed to cast one occasionally in the role of future wife. One girl he 
found particularly attractive confessed that she had a heart mur¬ 
mur. She was certainly no candidate for the foreign field, he con¬ 
cluded. Then a girl from a fine Christian family invited him to go on 
a picnic. She seemed to have qualifications for a missionary, but his 
enthusiasm quietly waned. 

But he was thrust into one relationship that made resistance 
difficult. In the winter of 1919 he went with a trainload of young 
people to a Student Volunteer convention in Des Moines, Iowa. It 
was a time of gaiety as well as sober inspiration, and Victor helped 
liven the trip home by jigging in the train aisle and participating in 
silly songs, one of which he would always remember: 

He ate some cabbage, some fell on his vest. 

He ate some pork chops, some fell on his vest. 

He ate some apple and then some scrapple 
and as he ate them, some fell on his vest. 

Now this is no fable, when his wife was not able 
To buy hash for the table she cut up his vest. 

He was thrown into the company of a very attractive girl. Arriv¬ 
ing at Altoona en route to Philadelphia, she found she had missed 
her train and had to send a telegram. Victor went into the station 
with her. "There's my other train!" she exclaimed when they came 
out. "If I don't hurry, I'll miss that, too." She rushed off ahead of 
him. Following, Victor saw her move straight into the path of an 
oncoming locomotive. Darting forward, risking his own safety, he 
dragged her back just in time. She clung to him, face drained of 
color, unable to express her gratitude. He saw her to her train and 
almost forgot the incident. 

Arriving home, he received a letter from the girl's father, James 
G. Biddle, thanking him for himself and his family for saving 
Dorothy's life and inviting im to visit their home. He did so, not 
once but many times. The girl was one of five attractive sisters, at 
least two of whom manifested interest in the tall, angular, young 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


57 


student whose deep voice was as eloquent in telling jokes as in 
saying grace at the table, who could convulse in merriment one 
minute by his jigging and seriously discuss the needs of India the 
next. Victor could well have been romantically attracted to at least 
one of the girls, but once more he did not make any commitment or 
compromise himself by the slightest act of intimacy. His standards 
were puritanical, and for the present he had to live a life of routine, 
with fun and fellowship and a good meal now and then, but 
leaving all romance and adventure for the future. 

Not so his parents, for in that year of 1919, William Eagle and 
Kate Rambo were embarking on a mission as challenging as the 
one in India. They had been asked by the Near East Relief agencies 
to superintend an orphanage in Turkey. Victor met them in New 
York and saw them off for Constantinople with the S. S. Black Arrow 
on September 19. Never had he seen them so excited, so youthfully 
buoyant. They were like exiles returning to a beloved homeland. 
Although they were sailing into seas still strewn with mines, 
bound for a region that was a hotbed of confusion and mayhem, 
they expressed not the slightest worry, only a reluctance to leave 
their three boys so widely scattered, Philip working in Indiana, 
Huber at the University of Oregon. 

It was Victor who feared, for he knew the dangers into which 
they were venturing. The Ottoman Empire was in its last throes of 
dissolution. In the struggle of rival forces for control of the remain¬ 
ing Turkish territory, the minority of Christian Armenians had 
been made scapegoats, and the Western world had been horrified 
by news of Armenian massacres. The orphans who would be the 
Rambos' charges were not only the result of those massacres but 
also possible targets. Even the voyage to their destination was 
hazardous, and he waited anxiously for their first letter. It was not 
reassuring. They had encountered a storm on the Atlantic, eight 
days of it. 

"The boat tossed and rolled and cork-screwed! Rain came in 
sheets. When the storm first struck us, we made a brave fight. But 
our 'innards' finally caved in. We, mind you! We were madder than 
March hares, for had we not sailed the seven seas? . . .God be with 
you. I want you to realize that what has happened to us is a 
perfectly marvelous and unusual thing. What we are doing is 
heroic. Some would say it is foolhardy. Possibly. But it is not 
cowardly." 

The next letter, written the middle of October, was even less 
reassuring. 

"Today, along the coast of Sicily, boats move out cutting away 
the mines. Yesterday we had a fire drill again, putting on our life 



58 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


belts and forming in line on the deck. I am afraid you will worry, 
waiting to hear of our safety, but remember this. Dr. McCallum has 
your name, and if anything happens to us, you will get a telegram 
at once, and no news will always be good news." 

During th^ following weeks and months Victor lived in two 
worlds, the peaceful city of William Penn's founding and the 
tumultuous coastland of Asia Minor, where Paul had once plied his 
trade of tentmaking. The orphanage of 350 children to which they 
were assigned was at Harounie, In the mountains seventy-five 
miles from Adana, not far from the Mediterranean. It had been left 
by the Germans, allies of the Turks in the war. As their first letters 
were full of their work, the beauties of their surroundings, and 
their struggle to secure provisions for their orphans (How reminis¬ 
cent of India!), Victor felt easier in mind. Then in January the storm 
broke. The Turks laid siege to the town of Marash, less than fifty 
miles from Harounie, and the French, who had been given the 
protectorate of Cilicia, were forced to withdraw. Five thousand 
Armenians were slain. An American home for Armenian girls was 
sacked and burned, the girls murdered. The tragedy was reported 
in the American news media, and Victor heard of it long before his 
parents. He waited for their next letter with great apprehension. It 
came a month later. 

"Thirty-five hundred Armenians marched out behind the 
French—men, women, children, without preparation—on foot! 
The weather was bitter cold, and there was snow, knee deep. Over 
1500 of the refugees perished. We have 220 French troops here 
now, entrenched all around us. ... At nine one morning I was 
changing my clothes when my interpreter came and asked me to 
come at once, an attack of bandits was starting! Mother went to the 
front verandah and saw the women and children of the village 
running in with packs of bedding, clothing, all their belongings, all 
frightened nearly to death. ... Dr. William S. Dodd, Director of 
Near East Relief in Adana, has twice written permission for us to 
leave. But the ordeal of moving with 220 people, most of them 
children, is so trying, the problem of what to do with the children 
when we got to Adana so serious—the dangers are possibly 
greater than those of staying here." 

But he did move the orphans on March 25, just in time. On the 
twenty-seventh the French captain drew all his soldiers into the 
orphanage, where they were besieged furiously for four days, then 
forced to leave. "The Turks came in and rifled all, plundered 
everything, left nothing but a riddled building." 

When the Rambos arrived in Adana in April, it was already on its 
way to becoming a refuge for at least nine thousand Armenians. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


59 


For weeks they were marooned there, attempting to feed and 
shelter the more than two hundred orphans. The city was under 
continual attack, and there was no egress. Railroads were under¬ 
mined; bridges were blown up. Not until June, when a twenty-day 
armistice was signed, was there opportunity to move the children 
to a safer place. 

"Conditions were so threatening," wrote Eagle, "that I went at it 
on the 13th to get the orphans out. They began to go last Wednes¬ 
day the 16th; and for three days we got up at 4 A.M. and took 
sections of the children to station for 7 o'clock train. The last, about 
180, went Friday morning. We started on Saturday. We got to 
Yesidje, about 17 kilometers this side of Tarsus by 8:39. Could not 
go on, so here we are back in Adana. A bridge was destroyed near 
Tarsus. An armored train went on, and we heard the cannon roar 
later ... so we stayed just one day too long and are marooned 
here, with fighting at Tarsus and near here." 

Yet, as Victor well knew, this was a message of triumph, not 
complaint. Their worries had been all for the children, and they 
had got every one off safely to Cyprus. Not a child had been 
wounded or lost. And when they learned that all had landed 
safely, the triumph would be complete. Through the rest of their 
lives they would have the joy of knowing that their gifts of service, 
so woefully challenged in India, where their genius had not been 
recognized by fellow missionaries, had been vindicated. 

That summer, Victor was acting as sole medical officer in a camp 
conducted by the Christian Association for hundreds of under¬ 
privileged children from Philadelphia's inner-city areas. He was 
roughing it in tents on beds of straw, solving problems for the first 
time on his own, all the way from colds and broken bones to saving 
one boy from drowning. He was well liked, remembered Paul 
Thomas, one of the counselors, even this early showing compe¬ 
tence and dedication as a physician. Added to his other problems 
was the worry that came through his parents' letters. 

"June 29. Still here, not a train out yet. We have lived a year in 
these ten days marooned here. People talk nothing, think nothing 
but danger, siege, massacre." 

On August 8, 1920, an automobile road opened briefly from 
Adana to Karatash, and the Rambos set out on the hazardous 
overland journey. 

"The Turks were shooting at us," wrote Kate on August 19, "and 
we clung to the further side of the truck so the bullets would go 
through the baggage first, but father rode serenely on in the Ford. 
We took a sailing vessel when we reached Karatash for Mersene 40 
miles. Slept on a coil of chain. I am black and blue. We put our 



60 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


trunks on a water buffalo cart to take to the ship, and when they got 
down to the water they ran right in, cart and all. All our things 
spoiled! We have certainly had plenty of experiences, but I would 
not have missed it for the world!" 

In September they were on another assignment in Batoum on 
the Black Sea, working with Greek refugees, exchanging the dan¬ 
gers of shellfire for those of cholera, typhus, and plague. 

"A man died in an adjacent room from plague just before we 
came. We hardly think of these things. Perhaps not enough. You 
know we were through them all in India." 

Kate wrote, "I go to a refugee barracks on the seaside where 
there are 4,000 refugees living in tents made with bits of carpet, old 
dresses, or anything, and give out milk to about 200 sick people— 
starving, dying, poor ragged folk. ... If these people get off to 
Greece where they are bound, our work here will be finished. 
Have rain almost all the time, two weeks of it. Terrible on the 
thousands of refugees, many of them almost naked, some abso¬ 
lutely so. We are helpless to help them, having no money at our 
disposal. About 6,000 of them have been held up by lack of orders. 
Now they are going aboard ship, and as soon as they get off we 
shall be free." 

The Rambos returned to American in January 1921. Victor met 
their ship in New York, and they spent some time in Philadelphia, 
recuperating. The two years of stress had aged them, etched de¬ 
eper lines, and aggravated physical weaknesses, yet given them a 
deep spiritual satisfaction. Eagle especially had acquired a new 
serenity. The restlessness and frustration of the years away from 
India had given way to a sense of fulfillment. Once more God had 
permitted him to save the lives of hundreds of orphans, giving new 
meaning and purpose to all the intervening years. 

Kate, always serene and competent, had changed little. Victor 
marveled anew at her courage. Trained now in medicine, he could 
better appreciate the amazing incident related to him of her early 
years in India when, suffering from a painful thrombosed vein, she 
had performed surgery on herself, taking a sharp scalpel and 
lancing the affected vein area. He could not help envying his 
father. Would he, Victor, ever find a wife to compare with her? 

That year he started his hospital residency. Thanks to the in¬ 
fluence of James Biddle he was admitted to Pennsylvania Hospital, 
one of the foremost training centers in the world. With the other 
interns, he lived in the oldest section of the hospital; it contained 
some of the wards, but much of his work, including the X-ray 
department, was in a building across the office area. At the end of 
this area was a picture by Benjamin West of Christ healing the sick. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


61 


a large mural perhaps twelve by fifteen feet, a constant reminder of 
the commitment Victor had made of his life. Sometime, he vowed, 
a picture like that would adorn the wall of a hospital in some 
foreign land. Which one? As yet he had not the slightest idea. He 
was willing to go to any place where he was needed— except. 

A book on hygiene once read for an examination had led to this 
“exception." The book described in lurid detail the ravages of 
sleeping sickness, a disease that is indigenous to Africa and carried 
by the tsetse fly. There on the pages were enlarged, horrible pic¬ 
tures of the fly and one of an African victim in the throes of death. 
Victor had stared at them in revulsion. He would go anywhere, he 
decided then and there, except where the tsetse fly and sleeping 
sickness thrived. The idea had become an obsession. 

His four years in medical school and two years as an intern were 
giving him the best possible training for work anywhere in the 
world. Many of his teachers were outstanding in their fields. There 
was George W. Norris, medical chief of the hospital and instructor 
in physical diagnosis, not only an extraordinary teacher but with a 
respect for a mere intern that inspired confidence and loyalty. 
Victor visited him several times at his apartment near Rittenhouse 
Square and doubtless took advantage of his gracious willingness to 
listen and answer questions. "He can listen to just so much," some 
of his fellow residents cautioned him. "Don't pester him any 
more." But Victor was never one to forgo such opportunities be¬ 
cause of modesty. 

Drs. Charles Mitchell and Walter E. Lee were able instructors in 
surgery. The former taught Victor a lesson that would serve him 
well in years to come. One day a child seven years old was brought 
in. She had been hit by a truck, was badly lacerated, and had a 
fractured pelvis. "Doctor," Victor urged, "surely we should sew 
her up, repair this laceration immediately." 

"Victor," the doctor returned gently, "let her get well." 

The child recovered completely after being operated on in due 
time. So—Victor understood—the human body, such a marvel¬ 
ous creation, is its own best healer. 

Professor Sweet, the esteemed head of experimental surgery at 
the medical school, chose Victor and another student as his 
partners in a surgical investigation, the results of which were 
published. Dr. Sweet was so impressed with Victor's ability and 
dedication that he gave him other responsibilities and finally said 
to him. "You must continue your studies, Victor. After you finish 
your residency, I want you to remain in my department. It's not 
impossible, in fact it is quite probable, that in time you might step 
into my shoes." 



62 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Victor was surprised, touched, and excited. The confidence of 
this respected doctor was an accolade more to be prized than his 
election to membership in the National Sigma Xi Society. Become 
the successor to the esteemed Dr. Sweet! For a moment he was 
sorely tempted, but only for a moment. 

"I'm sorry, sir, " he said. "I appreciate your confidence. But I 
have already committed myself to become a missionary." 

"A missionary!" said the doctor. "You mean you're going to bury 
yourself in some barbaric jungle when you might have a distin¬ 
guished academic career in one of the world's finest universities? 
But—it's not too late. You can change your mind." 

"No, sir. It's a commitment I made to God. There will be no 
change." 

The professor regarded him with puzzled but respectful exas¬ 
peration. "Victor," he said finally, "you're a damned fool to waste 
your life in some godforsaken—" He grinned. "No, not godforsa¬ 
ken. I shouldn't say that, should I?—some place apart from an 
academic career. But, good luck to you." 

Fellowship with other Student Volunteers during those years 
kept his will warmly resolute. He attended many conferences. 
Several were held at Stony Brook, Long Island, and at one of these 
he met a high school girl named Louise Birch. Except for the 
coincidence that she bore the name of his former college friend in 
whom he had felt a romantic interest—although the name was 
spelled with an "i" instead of a "u" — the meeting made little 
impression, and he soon forgot it. The girl, much younger and 
more impressionable, was less likely to forget the tall, gangling 
stranger who during serious moments seemed charged with 
spiritual electricity and at recreation could jump on a table and 
keep the group in stitches by tap dancing like a professional. 

At Christmas time 1922, Victor was invited to a dinner by his 
friend Bob Haines, a reunion affair held in downtown Philadel¬ 
phia, and again he was introduced to the girl named Louise Birch. 

"I met you before," she told him, as he again expressed surprise 
that she bore the name of a previous friend. "It was years ago at 
Stony Brook. No doubt you have forgotten." 

Victor mumbled something unintelligible, for one of the few 
times in his life at a loss for appropriate words. As he expressed it 
later, he was completely won over. To his suddenly prejudiced eyes 
she seemed the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, with her fair 
complexion, blue eyes, and hair simply and neatly arranged in a 
style that his conservative taste highly approved of. He could 
hardly take his eyes off her the rest of the evening. If she knew that 
he was attracted—and she could hardly help it—she exhibited no 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


63 


special interest. She was poised, dignified, but very quiet and 
retiring. Although they had some conversation together, afterward 
Victor could remember nothing that was said. Later from Bob 
Haines he found out more about her. 

She lived with her mother, who was a doctor's daughter, and her 
brother, Tom, in Germantown. Her father was deceased. When 
Victor discovered that Louise was a sophomore at Wilson College 
and one of the most popular girls in her class, his hopes plum¬ 
meted. He was nearing thirty; she was not yet twenty. She would 
never consider giving up all her youthful prospects and going off 
with an older man to some far corner of the earth. But he could not 
forget her. All other girls of his acquaintance had become devoid of 
charm by comparison. 

As he plunged into the final months of his residency, he had 
worries other than romance. He had signed up to be a missionary, 
but where? The mission board had his application, yet there was 
no indication that his services were wanted or needed in any place. 
He might be graduated with the finest accreditation possible yet 
have nowhere to go. All through the six years of his training he had 
been confident of God's guidance. Doors had been opened in 
remarkable ways. Now there seemed nothing but blank walls. 
Why , Lord? he kept asking in his prayers. Didn't I promise You that 1 
would go anywhere You wanted me to go , except — 

Except. Slowly there came the realization that his submission had 
been defective because of that awful word except. For the first time 
he faced the fact of his reservation. He had not submitted himself 
completely, and all because of that disease carried by a little tsetse 
fly. Even now that he recognized his weakness, it was a struggle to 
change, for he had conditioned himself to the fear for six years. But 
he finally won the victory. 

Lord , he prayed, I will go anywhere You want me to go. If it is to tsetse 
fly country , that is where I will go. And if You want me to die with sleeping 
sickness , that is the way I want to die. Once again he felt confident and 
secure. He even walked straighten And his worries were ended. 
Four days later a cable came from India, asking that he be assigned 
there, the place of his birth. 

Victor finished his two years of residency at the end of June 1923, 
having received thorough training and experience in every branch 
of medicine except ophthalmology. In that field, work had been 
confined to clinics and lectures, with no practice in surgery or 
refraction. Three and a half months in the Philadelphia Lying-in 
Hospital, a charity institution, had provided practical experience in 
obstetrics and gynecology, and work at the Pennsylvania Hospital 
at 49th Street had given experience with the mentally afflicted. He 



64 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


would even start his work in India with a small amount of capital 
for surgical tools and equipment, thanks to members of the Rambo 
Committee. During his summer at camp a fellow worker, Jimmy 
Paterson, a law student, had come to him, smiling. 

"Victor, I have just inherited $120,000. Is there something you 
would like to buy and take out with you to the mission field?" 

"Of course there is!" Victor's eyes had widened in unbelieving 
delight. They had widened still further when his new friend had 
put in his hand a check for five hundred dollars. 

Surely he had everything necessary to start his work on the 
mission field— except. That troublesome word came up again. To 
be really effective a missionary should have a wife, he thought. For 
years he had been appraising the young women of his acquaint¬ 
ance for suitability, and there were several who could have 
qualified—any one of the Biddle girls, for instance. But he never 
came to the point of proposal. Always when he tried to make a 
choice the face of the girl he had met at the Christmas party— 
serene, clear-eyed, radiantly youthful—interposed itself. And of 
course she was out of the question, a girl not yet twenty, still in 
college, popular, and probably with a coterie of male admirers. Yet 
he could not help remembering that they had first met at a confer¬ 
ence for young people presumably committed to Christian service. 

Early that summer Victor was invited to a weekend house party 
by Isabelle Haines Nicholson, sister of Bob and Margaret, at her 
home in New Jersey. To his surprise and delight, Louise Birch was a 
member of the party. Perhaps her presence was also to his conster¬ 
nation, for in this festive setting, surrounded by some of her 
contemporaries in age and college status, she seemed not only 
more desirable but also more unattainable than ever. Still he man¬ 
aged to find opportunities for conversation with her, and he dis¬ 
covered that they had many interests and ideals in common. She 
had a cousin who was a missionary in China, and she had even 
been somewhat interested in missionary service herself. Her 
church in Germantown was actively involved in missions of all 
kinds, not merely of its own denomination. No, she had never 
thought of going to any particular field, although one speaker had 
so interested her in Central America that she had taken a year of 
Spanish in college. And yes, she had always thought of India as a 
country with a most fascinating culture. 

Another incident gave him a sense of even closer affinity. 
"Please, Louise," someone asked, turning to her at the table, "will 
you ask a blessing?" She did so unhesitatingly, speaking with the 
simple and natural joy of one who lived in close and intimate 
relationship with God. His heart sang. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


65 


With great bravado Victor invited her and one of her friends, 
Winnie Thomas, to accompany him on a canoe trip on the nearby 
Rancocas Creek, persuading one of his friends, Herman Salley, to 
go along as a blind date for Winnie. She sat in the canoe with her 
back to him so that he could not see her face, even the neat sweep 
of her hair being obscured by a large-brimmed hat, but he was as 
conscious of her nearness as he was of the summer breeze that 
brushed her cheeks and rumpled his hair. He knew that, whatever 
the future might bring, here was the one great love of his life. It 
never entered his mind to wonder whether she could cook or even 
if she would make a good missionary wife. His answer to ten years 
of prayer for the best girl in the world had been answered. 

The holiday came to an end, and the four of them rode back to 
Germantown from Philadelphia on the trolley. At Harvey Street 
Victor and Louise got out, leaving Herman to escort Winnie to her 
home farther on. It began to rain, so hard that they took refuge on a 
deserted porch in the first block. It was the first time they had been 
alone together. Standing there in the intimacy of the secluded spot, 
a curtain of pelting rain shutting them in, Victor experienced his 
first doubt and uncertainty. What right had he to ask this brilliant 
girl, so many years his junior, only halfway through college, to give 
up all her own plans and share his life? But, surely she was the 
answer to his prayers. He must ask her. Now? Or should he wait? If 
she said, no, it might mean that he would never see her again. But 
he would always be a "right now" person, a plunger rather than a 
crawler. "Would you—" he began, and in a burst of impetuous 
words he asked her to marry him and go with him to India. 

When she said yes, that is, provided her mother was willing, he 
could hardly contain his joy and relief. His arms went around her 
and held her close, an unfamiliar action, for it was the first time he 
had ever held any woman except his mother and sister. He had 
never kissed a girl romantically, and he did not now. That, he 
thought, should wait until they were actually engaged. When the 
rain abated he escorted her to her door and, making sure no one 
was watching, gave her another warm embrace. Then he went 
back along Harvey Street to his trolley, flying, it seemed to him, the 
sidewalk turned to air under his feet. 

The news of their engagement shocked and mystified Louise's 
college friends. Winnie first learned of it when she attended a 
Victorious Life Conference at Stony Brook that summer, a confer¬ 
ence at which her father, W. H. Griffith Thomas, was one of the 
speakers. Louise, her young brother, Tom, and Connie Covell, 
who was later to become Tom's wife, were also at the conference. 
Hearing that Louise was leaving the conference to prepare for her 



66 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


wedding and departure for India, Winnie could hardly believe it. 
How could she be dropping out of college, such a brilliant and 
popular student, almost certain to be chosen May Queen in her 
junior year? And who would have believed that day on the canoe 
trip that the tall, soberly earnest, and—yes, nearly ten years older 
doctor had such serious intentions? She doubted if Louise herself 
had suspected. Why, he must have proposed just minutes after 
leaving them on the trolley! 

The summer sped by. In June Victor had been ordained as a 
minister in the Church of Christ. At the time of his graduation he 
was offered a research position and was also invited to become 
dean of Meharry Medical School in Nashville. Was it the outspo¬ 
ken Dr. Sweet who recommended him, thinking perhaps that if 
Victor was fool enough to go to India, he might compromise by 
heading this black medical college, which was desperate to find a 
dean? Of course Victor did not even consider either offer. In Au¬ 
gust he was made a diplomate of the National Board of Medical 
Examiners. 

Meanwhile he was becoming better acquainted with his future 
wife and her family. He found her mother to be a gracious, kindly 
person. Once she had agreed with some misgivings to their 
engagement, he could enhance the pleasures of an embrace by 
kissing with a clear conscience. It was a new and delightful experi¬ 
ence that he savored for the first time at age thirty. 

Curiously enough, it would be many years before he discovered 
that he was marrying into a very notable family. But Louise was not 
one to boast. Only on their first furlough, eight years later, would 
he learn that her great-great-grandfather, William Russell Birch, 
had exhibited forty-one miniatures at the Royal Academy in 
England, had been employed by Sir Joshua Reynolds to make 
copies of his portraits in enamel, and in 1785 had received a medal 
for excellence from the Society of Arts. Coming to the United 
States in 1794, he had established his reputation as a miniature 
painter and enameler and engraver, producing about sixty 
enameled copies of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Washington besides 
his own original work, which included an oil portrait of Washing¬ 
ton for which the first president gave a sitting. Two volumes of his 
engravings of scenes in Philadelphia were treasures sought after 
by collectors. 

William's son, Thomas Birch, coming with his father to America 
at age fifteen, had also become a famous artist, best known for his 
marine paintings and engravings of Philadelphia. The Birch set of 
twenty-eight views of the city was so extensive in the planning that 
it made all earlier efforts insignificant by comparison. The aim was 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


67 


not to commemorate one event or a single building but to record 
the growth of a city, its busy streets and markets, its soldiers and 
citizens. Some of his famous historical paintings, like the Landing 
of William Penn, The Wasp and the Frolic, and The Battle of Lake 
Erie were hung in the great art museums of the country. His son, 
also Thomas, had owned an auction gallery on Chestnut Street. 
Louise's father, Milton Birch, had been a prosperous businessman 
who dealt in wholesale paints and owned a company that man¬ 
ufactured pigments. The name Birch was an important part of the 
very form and substance of historic Philadelphia. 

But Victor knew nothing of this. Louise was not one to say, 
"Victor, you're so lucky to get me because I come from a great 
family!" And eight years later it would not be Louise but her 
brother who would show him the impressive albums of art, take 
him around the house, and point out on the walls the valuable 
prints of old Philadelphia by William and Thomas Birch. 

Victor found, almost to his relief, that his financee was not the 
paragon of perfection he had at first believed her to be. With more 
amusement than dismay, he discovered on their first Sunday in 
church together that she could not sing, could not even carry a 
tune. But it did not matter. Her life sang, her conversation sang, 
and her whole being made music for him. 

One defect, however, he was eager to correct. According to the 
custom of his church she had never been baptized properly, not 
having been immersed. He suggested to her that the ceremony be 
performed again, and rather reluctantly she agreed, although she 
was never convinced that it was necessary. She rejected the idea 
that the previous rite had not been valid. He baptized her in the 
Kensington Christian Church in Philadelphia. 

They were married, however, in her Episcopal church in Ger¬ 
mantown on October 8,1923. Louise's mother had had to go with 
them to get the license, for at that time a person of nineteen was 
considered underage. It was a semiformal wedding, with Helen 
Fraser, Louise's roommate at Wilson College, acting as bridesmaid 
and Wistar Wood standing with Victor as best man. Not owning a 
dress suit, Victor borrowed a cutaway from Wistar. 

After a short wedding trip to New Hampshire, the couple trav¬ 
eled to Portland, Oregon, where Victor's parents were living, and 
then in November set sail from Seattle. They arrived in the harbor 
of Yokohama shortly after the severe earthquake and fire that had 
practically leveled the city of Tokyo. In Shanghai they stopped for a 
few days with the family of Dr. Joe McCracken, whom Victor had 
known at the university and who had become head of St. John's 
Medical School. At Hong Kong they again left the ship and went 



68 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


upriver to Canton, where Charles Haines was on the staff of the 
Christian college. There they spent Christmas. And at last they 
sailed from Hong Kong to India, landing on January 12, 1924, in 
Calcutta. 



Victor ami Louise Rambo on their wedding day, Oct. 8, 1923. Also 
pictured are Helen Fraser, Wistar Wood, and flower girl 
Dorothea Nicholson. 




4 


I ndia again! As on the morning of January 12,1924, the ship eased 
its way through the shoals and sandbanks of the Hoogly River 
toward Calcutta, Victor's excitement grew. When the city came 
into view, second in size only to London in the British Empire, he 
felt a burst of pride that even his first glimpse of New York had not 
inspired. This was his native country. Here, he knew suddenly, he 
belonged. After twenty years he had come home. And when, after 
the ship docked, he heard a familiar voice, reminiscent of his 
childhood, he was sure of it. 

"Welcome, brother!" It was John McGavran, a mission official, 
who had traveled all the way from Central Provinces and boarded 
the ship to greet him. He brought with him a welcoming letter from 
his son Donald, Victor's boyhood playmate, who had returned to 
India as a missionary only a few months before. 

Proudly Victor presented his bride, glad that her introduction to 
this new country should be one of such assurance and friendliness. 
When they had disembarked, claimed their baggage, and gone 
through customs, McGavran suggested that they go to a hotel. 

"Oh!" Louise said, turning eagerly to Victor. "Do you suppose 
we could go to the Lees'? I heard Mrs. Lee speak once in our 
church, and I have always wished I could visit their mission here in 
Calcutta." Of course, agreed McGavran. Like all missionaries, the 
Lees were always prepared to welcome visitors. He made a tele¬ 
phone call, and presently Dr. Frank Lee, Mrs. Lee's son, came to 
conduct them to the Lee Memorial Mission in central Calcutta. 
Busy though he was, he had taken time to welcome the newcomers 
with gracious friendliness. 

Riding through the streets in a tonga, a two-wheeled, horse- 
drawn vehicle with seats back to back, Victor felt the twenty years 
slipping away as sights, sounds, and smells transported him into 
the world of his childhood. His nostrils tingled with the mingled 
odors of hot spices, jasmine blossoms, cow dung smoke, human 

69 


70 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


sweat, sandalwood—yes, and poverty. His feet tapped in rhythm 
to the beating of distant drums, growing constantly louder and 
blending with the cadences of a full band as a funeral procession 
drew near and passed. How often as a child he had stood by the 
roadside, gawking at just such a funeral or a wedding display. 
Death or life; both were so vividly dramatized in India. All the ca¬ 
cophony of sounds—clatter of bullock carts; wails of street hawk¬ 
ers; shouts of the tonga-wala trying to force his way through a 
medley of handcarts, rickshaws, loaded donkeys, bicycles, bullock 
carts, ambling cows, pedestrians, and stray dogs—was like music 
in his ears. He realized he had forgotten there could be so much 
color in the world, or so much drabness, as he saw the reds and 
yellows of saris and turbans, the blaze of sunlight on brass and 
copper, and the crimsons and golds of poinsettias and bougainvil¬ 
leas; but also the duns and grays of dust, of ash-smeared sadhus 
(Hindu ascetic holymen), of dingy, ragged loincloths, and of a man 
sleeping on the sidewalk, wrapped in a worn cotton sheet. 

They stayed only a few days in Calcutta, stopping at the Lee 
Memorial Mission connected with the Methodist church. Mrs. Lee, 
wife of the mission's founder, was there. Victor, who knew her 
story, marveled at the courage and vigorous faith of this woman 
who had lost six of her children in a devastating landslide in the 
foothills of the Himalayas near Darjeeling yet could show visitors 
their youthful pictures with smiling serenity and pride. Her calm 
acceptance of such tragedy made him better able to cope with his 
own bitter disappointment when John McGavran told him that his 
appointment would not be to his father's old station at Damoh. Dr. 
Mary McGavran, John's sister, was already working there. Instead 
he was to go to Mungeli to the southeast, not far from Bilaspur, the 
mission headquarters for that district, where there was much 
greater need of a trained doctor. But first, like all missionaries, 
Victor and Louise had to spend months in language study. 

One day in Calcutta, Victor stood with head uncovered by the 
grave of G. L. Wharton, the pioneer missionary who had been 
responsible for his father's coming to India. 

"How put into words," he wrote afterward, "the emotions of my 
heart as I stood there at this grave thirty-two years after my father 
and mother had sailed? A generation has passed into history, and 
now I am here to take my place in the same scenes made sacred by 
my predecessors." Of course he had had to come back to India and 
become one in this royal line of succession. It was all part of a 
pattern designed and woven by the Master Hand. 

Harda, the town to which they were sent for language study, 
was the westernmost station of the mission, more than eight 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


71 


hundred miles by train from Calcutta, a journey of several days. 
The train ride was a far cry from his parents' treks by ox cart, 
horseback, and tonga, but it was a great contrast to Western means 
of transportation. Victor anxiously awaited his bride's reaction to 
the long days and nights of thickening dust, sanitary facilities of 
the crudest and most minimal sort, a hard, narrow seat on which 
one spread a bedding roll at night, and a constant rocking motion 
that could have played havoc with a delicate female already three 
months pregnant. But he need not have worried. Louise seemed as 
at home on an Indian train as on a luxury Pullman. He was 
constantly giving thanks for this helpmeet who was giving him 
companionship and joy beyond all expression. 

The train trip was a journey into the past, as the world of his 
boyhood came to life outside the barred and screened windows— 
clusters of brown huts that looked like mounds of earth but were 
really some of India's more than five hundred thousand villages; 
women of incredible poise bearing towering loads on heir heads; 
farmers guiding the ancient wooden plow; oxen stolidly treading 
grain, pulling goatskin bags from an irrigation well, or plodding 
round and round an oil press; the feverish medley of an Indian 
railroad station. He was delighted to find some of the hawkers' 
shrill cries intelligible. 

" Mumphali , mumphali, mumphali bariya /" (Peanuts, peanuts, 
large and best!) 

"Chai, garam chail " (Tea, hot tea!) 

'Tan, bidi!" (Cigarette!) 

"Santare, kele!" (Oranges, bananas!) 

Arrival in Harda caused a mad scramble. Victor and Louise had 
overslept. Suddenly the conductor's call of "Harda, Harda" came 
to their ears, and they were not even packed to get off. The 
trainmen were anxious to get them dumped off to keep the train on 
schedule. Although they had slept in their clothes, their baggage 
was strewn over the compartment. But with the help of Ken and 
Esther Potee, the missionaries who had come to meet them, order 
emerged, and they delayed the train only a few minutes. 

Arrival at the mission brought even more poignant memories of 
the past, for here they were greeted by Indian Christians with 
half-familiar faces to whom William Eagle and Kate Rambo were 
still the only beloved parents they had known. 

"Papa-ji? Mama-ji?" came eager inquiries. "How are they now 
and where? Will they ever come back to us? Remember me? We 
used to play together in Damoh." 

It was indeed a homecoming, bringing renewed awareness to 
Victor of his own identity in that "royal line of succession," of 



72 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


greater responsibility, too, inasmuch as the pioneer trailblazers like 
his father had made the task of a second-generation missionary so 
much less difficult. Barriers of tradition and prejudice had been 
broken down. He had the knowledge of India that his forebears 
had lacked. He was trained in preventing and healing disease. 
There was a carefully planned and proved organization in which to 
work. 

Not long after his arrival, he had an opportunity to exhibit his 
skill in medical diagnosis. Ken Potee showed him his forehead, 
which was covered with a dermatitis of unknown origin. The 
painful red lumps looked suspiciously like stings, but what caused 
them? Ken had no idea. Victor's medical curiosity was excited but 
frustrated. One day he accompanied his fellow missionary by 
bicycle to the high school of which Ken was both teacher and 
administrator. Arriving there, he took up the topee Ken had laid 
down and on an impluse began investigating it. To his shock but 
also his amusement he found the space between the topee and the 
headband filled with bedbugs, one of the banes of India. They had 
adjusted themselves to the strange environment and become thor¬ 
oughly at home. While Ken was cycling to school they would 
emerge en masse, take their lunch off his forehead, and crawl back 
again, repeating the process on his return to the bungalow. The 
discovery aroused laughter as well as relief. 

Victor begrudged the long months of language study ahead, 
which were like the enforced, quiet expectancy for action before a 
fencing bout. His every muscle was tensed and every nerve was 
tingling, impatient for the contest to begin. 

Knowledge of Hindi was a prime requisite for the missionary in 
this part of India, whether for preaching the gospel, teaching a 
child to read, or prescribing treatment for a stomachache. They had 
been sent to Harda because there was a pandit in the town with a 
good reputation as a teacher. They lived in an old mission bun¬ 
galow presided over by Miss Lucile Ford and Miss Mary 
Thompson, an Australian missionary assigned to evangelistic 
work among women in the area. To Victor the latter was his 
beloved "Auntie Mary," for she had known him in childhood more 
than twenty years before. 

"It's like a page out of Kipling!" So Louise described the big, 
high-ceilinged house with its barred, unscreened windows, its 
stone floors covered with reed mattings, and its encircling porches 
shaded by gorgeous poinsettias and bougainvillea vines in full 
flower. She was glad for the reprieve from household management 
in a country of new foods and customs, but her introduction to 
culinary supervision was not ideal. The Indian cook lacked both 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


73 


training and ability. Always Louise would remember the 
monotony of a diet in which dal (a form of lentils) was a chie f 
component, served often in soups and even in cutlets. 

Language study was to Victor a whole year of marking time. The 
Pandit was efficient, but the blank pages in Victor's diary for the 
next months symbolized the empty tedium of tenses, plurals, and 
gender endings. A few entries noted occasional respites from the 
drudgery: a hunting trip ("Off at 3.30 A.M. Tonga ride. Three shots 
at running deer. Potee got two. Back 7 P.M."); happiness over the 
comingbaby ("Well, well! L.V. [Little Victor?] kicks. . . .Louise and 
I listened to the little one's heart beat. We are so happy and thrilled 
I run up and around"). But most of the entries reflected the bore¬ 
dom of wrestling with hateful syntax: "Study eat study play sleep. 

. . . Pandit for usual time but little advance." His boyhood practice 
in the language proved of meager benefit, for what he remembered 
was mostly of the colloquial and gali variety. To his surprise, Louise 
made far better progress than he. 

But with the soaring of heat in March came reprieve, for they 
were to continue language study in the hills. "March 27. Getting 
packed—oh, boy!" They stopped in Bina, then traveled to Damoh, 
the same sixty miles that Kate had traversed long ago through mud 
and flood to save his life. When the train pulled into the station, 
there were Alfred Aleppa, his wife, Tabitha, and his son Benji, 
and others of the mission to meet them. It was a blessed home¬ 
coming. 

Attending services that Sunday in the church his father had 
helped build, Victor saw many of the boys who were saved in the 
early days, now grown to manhood and become the backbone of 
the Christian church. Here they were in Damoh, others in Harda 
and all the stations, working as teachers and preachers and, yes, 
artisans, able to earn their living through the industrial training 
Eagle Rambo had given them. A tiny, thin, wrinkled, brown 
woman who looked up at him with brimming eyes and murmured, 
"Victor Baba," proved to be his old ayah who had rocked and 
crooned him to sleep. When they were having dinner with Alfred 
and Tabitha, Mohammed the cook appeared, beaming, and at 
Victor's guilty prompting laughed delightedly over the memory of 
two small boys dangling their fingers in his holy water. Tabitha, 
who had been like another mother to the child Victor, gave Louise, 
her "daughter-in-law," silver bracelets. "An unspeakably precious 
time," Victor recorded in his diary. 

"April 3. Landour. It's great to be up here. It's magnificent! I 
remember the fresh sweet smell. We will be happy here." 

Seven thousand feet up in the Himalayas, this military station 



74 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


had long been a haven for officials and others to escape from the 
115-20 degree temperatures down on the plains. The tingling air, 
bracing after the oven heat in Harda, the familiar mountain paths 
reminiscent of childhood roamings, the soaring horizons—all 
were exhilarating. He longed to "run away to adventure" again— 
and did. Looking for the luxuriant dahlias that had grown wild all 
over the hills, he was disappointed to find scarcely a one. "Why?" 
he asked some of the older missionaries. There had been a famine, 
he was told, and the poor people had dug up the dahlia bulbs and 
eaten them. Utility instead of beauty was served. At least they had 
served a good purpose, perhaps saved lives, but what a loss for the 
mountains. 

However, the "running away" ceased abruptly, for India was 
taking its toll of the foreigner. Headache, malarial fever, and chills 
put him to bed for days with large doses of quinine and sulphur. 
When he finally ventured out to walk in the middle of April, it was 
as a sober adult of thirty, not an exuberant boy of from five to nine. 
But the crisis passed, and both Victor and Louise adjusted zestfully 
to the new regime, happily housed with Pastor and Mrs. J. E. 
Moody and their four children in a house called "Kilmarnock." 
Even language school in this invigorating melange of holiday fes¬ 
tivities was not unpleasant. Victor was able to give medical service, 
assisting at surgery in the small mission hospital. Excitement over 
the coming addition mounted. On May 3 Victor wrote, "Little 
Vickie's heart beat clear and strong and 142. Head down. Louise 
well." 

But it was not "Little Vickie " after all. It was Helen Elizabeth, 
born on July 17 without benefit of medical assistance. Returning 
with a stretcher to take Louise to the hospital, Victor found Mrs. 
Moody holding the head of his daughter and waiting for him to cut 
the cord. All was well. The next day he wrote with fatuous satisfac¬ 
tion, "Helen smiled." 

The summer sped by, and most of the missionaries returned to 
their stations, including the Franklin sisters, Josepha, who had 
given Victor his name back in 1894, and Stella, both of whom were 
still his "Aunties." The Moodys, who were to be their fellow 
workers in Mungeli, also left. In August, when Louise was fully 
returned to health, a thrilling experience came to Victor. A Cana¬ 
dian and a Dane arrived in Landour and invited him to go with 
them to Gangotri, the head of the Ganges. Victor gladly accepted. 
With them went three carriers, one for each of the adventurers, and 
a cook who accepted the trip as a means of making a pilgrimage to 
the sacred spot where the great river emerges from beneath the 
glacier. The monsoon weather was clearing, and as they climbed 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


75 


higher and higher along the footpath, the roaring of the sacred 
river in their ears day and night, the white vistas of the Himalayas 
on every side, Victor's language describing the wonders ran the 
gamut of "grand, grander, grandest." 

Many times he gave medical service. He was amazed at the 
prevalence of goiter in the travelers and villagers he examined. 
Some of the people were from villages close to the river, some on 
pilgrimages from far places to the south. In the course of his 
investigation he was able to feel the throats of nearly all, women as 
well as men and children, examining the men and children first, 
then going casually to the women. Eight-five percent of the hill 
people had enlarged thyroid glands, a surprising discovery. Soon 
after this the government would give out iodized salt, which wiped 
out this condition in large measure. 

Back again to Landour, and the hateful grind of language study 
recommenced. Victor and Louise passed their "orals" in Septem¬ 
ber and continued work with a pandit. ("He is a scamp of the first 
water," recorded Victor, "But we forgive.") October found them 
back in Harda for more language study before their first-year final 
exams, three grueling days of them. Even then the struggle was far 
from over. On October 31 Victor wrote, "Pandit again. Hot on the 
trail of the language." The pandit, very alert and efficient, edu¬ 
cated them in more than vocabulary and syntax. Well versed in 
Hindu signs and wonders, he gave them all sorts of warnings in 
the shape of proverbs and old sayings. Many involved crows, that 
raucous and ubiquitous noisemaker of India. "Pattern your con¬ 
duct not after the crow but after the swan." "By sitting in a golden 
cage, no crow becomes a swan." "To see a crow mating is a sign of 
sure death!" 

There had to be another year of language study along with work 
at their station, with more final examinations at the end, in which 
Victor would receive a B grade and Louise, to his delighted 
amusement, would rate an A. Although he would always be 
superior in pronunciation, her natural aptitude for grammar 
would make her more meticulous. In conversation or in preaching 
he was soon in good command of the language, but there was 
always that backlog of unusable words that kept coming to mind. 
Of course the goal of perfection could never be reached. Uproari¬ 
ous laughter could often be raised by Indians recounting mistakes 
in pronunciation made by foreigners in the use of their language. 
Once, later, when Victor was ill in his bedroom, with the door ajar 
into an adjoining room in which a meeting of Indians was in 
progress, he was amused for twenty minutes to hear imitations of 
missionaries who had made hilarious blunders in words or 



76 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


phrases. Never, however, was such ridicule expressed in the pres¬ 
ence of the blunderer. Indians were invariably considerate of their 
Western friends, as were the latter when the situation was re¬ 
versed. 

In December the Rambos were in Mungeli, destined to be their 
field of service for the next quarter century. At last, after ten years 
of preparation, the commitment made in the church at Wichita was 
about to be fulfilled. 

Mungeli was a small town in central India, population only 
about 5,000 but a center for 250,000 people in 250 surrounding 
villages. The nearest railroad station was Bilaspur, thirty-one miles 
to the east. It was in a district known as Chhattisgarh, the land of 
the thirty-six forts, a region of broad, fertile plains nourished by 
many streams flowing from great hills to the west and covered with 
dense jungles of rich timber. Mungeli was on one of those twisting 
little streams known as the Agar River. The mission station was on 
one side of the stream, the town of Mungeli on the other. 

"So good to be here," Victor recorded on December 17. "Louise 
is a real housekeeper, and our two big rooms feel so homey. 
Everyone is gold. And the work is waiting." 

Housekeeper? Louise was hardly that. To her relief she was not 
yet expected to manage a household. Two rooms and a baby were 
quite enough to challenge her domestic talents at that stage 
without the additional direction of a staff of Indian servants— 
cook, sweeper, gardener and waterman, bearer, night watchman, 
and errand boy. It was pleasant sharing the "ladies' bungalow" 
with two maiden ladies, Jennie Fleming and Stella Franklin, who 
were as efficient as they were kindly and tolerant of an inexperi¬ 
enced, young missionary wife and mother. Both had been in India 
many years. Miss Fleming was in charge of women's work in the 
area, often going on tour in the villages with several "Bible 
women," camping in centers where there was a nucleus of Chris¬ 
tian families. Stella Franklin had been in Damoh when Victor was a 
child, superintending the girls' orphanage during the great 
famine. Here in Mungeli she was principal of a girls' school, 
training students for home life in their villages. For recreation she 
took trips into the villages herself, living in a tent, visiting in 
homes, teaching, and preaching. 

"It was your sister. Miss Josepha," Victor reminded her with a 
delighted grin, "who named me. If it hadn't been for her I might be 
some Tom, Dick, or Harry, and who knows how that might have 
changed my character!" 

Names, Victor had already discovered, were important in India, 
and "Rambo" was a good label for a foreigner who craved accep- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


77 


tance. Ram was one of India's principal gods. Ram the archer, 
whose arrow seldom missed. Ram-bo, the bow of Ram? V. C. 
Rambo. Victor grinned again, wryly, poking fun at himself. The "V. 
C." would certainly be terrific if the British government should 
ever decide to give him the Victoria Cross! 

But he needed no unusual label to win acceptance in Mungeli. 
His skill as a doctor was sufficient recommendation, and he was 
soon pressured into day-long, sometimes night-long, service. It 
was hard to tell from his daily chronciles which gave him the 
greater thrill, the work he had prepared for so long or the first 
time baby Helen said "Da da." He plunged into his medical duties 
with all the zest and vigor of a human dynamo. He could hardly 
wait to get to his work each morning. The tiny hospital was across a 
deep ravine from the bungalow they lived in, and there was a fence 
between. He had to go around by the main road to Bilaspur, which 
ran through the mission compound; his long, lanky figure, usually 
at a loping stride, aroused as much curiosity as on the streets of 
Alma. 

He was not alone in his healing ministry. Presiding over the 
hospital when he arrived was a remarkable Indian named Hira Lai. 
Dr. Hira Lai, the people of the district called him, and he fulfilled all 
the prerequisites of the title except that he had no medical 
degree—only that of a compounder, Indian counterpart of the 
Western pharmacist. About fifty, short, compact of body, bright of 
eye behind steel-rimmed glasses, as deft and skillful of finger as 
most graduate surgeons, for seventeen years this unusual Indian, 
left alone in the hospital, had been modestly but expertly minister¬ 
ing to the medical needs of this huge area. He delivered babies, 
held clinics, set broken bones, and treated scabies, worms, sore 
eyes, malaria, dysentery, leprosy, and all the other common 
ailments—yes, even performed surgery. Unschooled though he 
was in medicine, he was by no means untrained. 

Dr. Anna Dunn Gordon, who had received medical schooling in 
India and Brussels, had come to Mungeli in 1896, wife of Evalyn 
Gordon, a missionary teacher. She had started clinics, first under a 
tree, then in a tent. The boy Hira Lai had offered his help and been 
accepted. He had proved an apt pupil, his touch gentle when 
applying dressings, his fingers nimble in folding quinine powder 
papers, always careful that the sulphur and sweet oil were evenly 
blended into a smooth salve for healing itch. Through the years she 
had trained him until, when she left and there had been no phy¬ 
sician with a degree to take her place, he had gradually, not by 
his own wish but by the insistence of his grateful patients, be¬ 
come "Dr." Hira Lai. Now, with selfless joy and thanksgiving, he 



78 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


welcomed this newcomer who was destined to be his superior. 

"Praise to God you have come. Doctor Sahib! How long I have 
prayed!" 

Hira Lai was one of the most genuine Christians Victor would 
ever know. He had suffered much persecution for his faith. To keep 
him from being baptized and joining the Jesus Way, his relatives 
had tied him with ropes, locked him in the house, refused him 
food, and finally cast him out from his family. Yet in spite of his 
gentle, kindly nature he had stubbornly persisted, been baptized, 
and become an effective preacher as well as medical helper, an 
earnest Bible student. Once Victor was to find him without his 
New Testament. When he reached in his pocket for it and could not 
find it, it was as if he had discovered himself unclothed. His wife, 
Sonarin, to whom he had been betrothed in childhood, had been 
as courageous as he in accepting the Christian way. In fact, she had 
become the first person in the area to receive baptism, on January 
18,1891. 

The little "doctor" had won the affection and respect not only of 
his patients but also of influential persons who might well have 
resented his influence. The pleasant head man of Mungeli was a 
Brahmin who was said to have come to the village from 
Maharashtra with few more possessions than a lota , the brass 
vessel used by the Indian for his ablutions. Through skillful ma¬ 
nipulation of funds gradually acquired he had become rich, loan¬ 
ing his money until he had practically the whole area in his power. 
Being astute, he recognized that Christianity, if it had its way, 
would weaken his influence, perhaps make of himself a more just 
and simple man. He might well have become its enemy, except for 
one thing, one man. 

"In this whole district," he said once to Victor, "I know of only 
one really honest man. And his name is Hira Lai." 

The hospital was a crude building with only four rooms, one 
used for a storeroom and for dispensing medicines, two others for 
examining patients and for admissions, and the fourth, at one end, 
for operating. Floors were cement, but there were no ceilings, a 
serious liability in the operating room, where every breeze was 
likely to blow something from the cooked mud tiles of the roof 
down onto the table. By using a shed and placing beds on the ve¬ 
randah, they could accommodate no more than ten inpatients. 
Hot water came from an old cookstove in the yard. There was no 
plumbing. Toilets were in a separate hut. There was no X-ray 
machine. The nearest was thirty-one miles away in the govern¬ 
ment hospital in Bilaspur. Victor had a small, single-eyed mi- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


79 


croscope, the money for which had been raised by the Christian 
Endeavor society in the Tabernacle Presbyterian church. 

Victor accepted all deficiencies cheerfully, as challenges rather 
than frustrations. He had not expected the sterile, electrified per¬ 
fection of the Philadelphia operating rooms with their multiplicity 
of gadgets. Yet even here the same standards of sterility had to be 
maintained. There could be no compromise. Drapes were fastened 
high over the operating table to create a ceiling. The open windows 
were covered with gauze, letting in less light to be sure but keeping 
out the dust and flies. And for all the drawbacks of this, his new 
country, there were compensations. For much of the year central 
India was an ideal place to live and work. There were days and 
weeks of magnificent weather, cloudless skies, dry, clean air, and 
incredible beauty. Even with the mounting heat of March and 
April, the parched earth and bare trees seemed to burst into more 
profligate bloom—golds of the laburnum and gul mohr, crimsons 
of pongas and flame of the forest, and the delicate blue mauves of 
the jacaranda. Each day Victor departed to his work with anticipa¬ 
tion and zest, wishing he could take the "wondhap" of God's 
glorious outdoors into the poor little operating room. 

And poor it certainly was. His greatest frustration was the dearth 
of proper medical equipment. The most conspicuous feature of the 
hospital to a new doctor straight from the Pennsylvania Hospital 
was the utter lack of almost everything. There were forceps to 
deliver babies, and they had to be used fairly often. There were 
urethral sounds, which in those prepenicillin days were in fre¬ 
quent use. There were minimal instruments for emergencies, such 
as abdominal operations. There was chloroform, a mode of anes¬ 
thesia that Victor soon wished he had never seen or used. 

A young man from the village of Mungeli was brought in with a 
case of strangulated hernia. With the help of a trained nurse from 
the Bilaspur hospital, Victor was operating. She had been used to 
ether as an anesthetic, but none was available. In the middle of 
surgery the patient began to struggle, and the nurse administered 
more chloroform to quiet him. It resulted in cardiac arrest. These 
were the years before it was common to open the chest and mas¬ 
sage the heart in such emergencies. All efforts to restore life failed. 

The episode was doubly unfortunate because Victor had just 
come, and he wanted people to have confidence in him and in the 
hospital. There was not the usual response, "You could not help it. 
Doctor. It was his fate." The family was educated, the patient a 
much loved and capable son. It took all of Victor's facility of 
explanation to clear the hospital of blame. But he did not try to clear 





80 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


himself. He held himself responsible for the tragedy. He should 
have been more schooled in the correct use of chloroform and 
alerted the nurse to the necessity of waiting, holding off during the 
slight struggle. The fact that during his whole twenty-five years of 
service in Mungeli there would be no other deaths from anesthesia 
in no way mitigated his self-blame. The boy's death would be 
forever on his conscience. 

Despite all the disadvantages and meager equipment, Victor 
faced the challenge with hope and enthusiasm. There would be 
modem tools and equipment. There would be well-trained Indian 
helpers with medical degrees. There would even be a new pukka 
(first-class) hospital. Already in the headquarters at Indianapolis, 
plans were afoot for a central missions building. Meanwhile he 
thanked God for one of the most able and devoted assistants any 
doctor ever had. 

He was amazed at the skill of this man Hira Lai who for seven¬ 
teen years had provided medical service to a region of 250,000 
people. Much of the work was in obstetrics, and Hira Lai could not 
only perform routine and abnormal deliveries, but he could also 
turn a baby around as expertly as any specialist in Pennsylvania 
Hospital, smoothly, gently, and with a kindly assurance that could 
soothe the fears of a frightened village woman. 

Attitudes were changing in India, but there was still objection by 
many orthodox Hindus to having male doctors come into their 
homes to treat their women. Victor was soon hearing stories of 
how Hira Lai had handled such difficulties. Jenny Fleming, the 
evangelist at Mungeli, had had a little training in osteopathic 
healing, but she knew little about obstetrics and refused to handle 
such cases herself. So she and Hira Lai had employed a bit of 
subterfuge. Being called out for a difficult case in a village, she and 
a helper would prepare the patient, cover her face, and send all the 
relatives away; then Hira Lai would step in, deliver the baby, and 
Dr. Fleming would show it to the family, or, if it was born dead, 
comfort them. Doubtless this little subterfuge was known about 
and accepted. 

Once, however, this could not be done. Miss Fleming was un¬ 
able to go. There was Hira Lai in the village home on one side of the 
curtain protecting the female patient from his contaminating pres¬ 
ence, and she was groaning on the other. 

Listen, he said to the midwife on the other side who was 
trying helplessly to cope with the situation. "Put your ear down 
and listen. Can you hear the baby's heart beating?" Soon she 
popped her head out from behind the curtain. "Yes, I can hear it. 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


81 



.V 


Dr. Hira Lai, Victor's uneducated but dedicated and skillful co-worker in 
Mungeli, talks to one of his patients. 


tick, tick. I put my ear to the patient's ear, and I could hear tick 
tick!" 

Hira Lai loved to tell this story with gusto and uproarious laugh- 
ter. 

His skills were by no means confined to obstetrics. He had 
learned to handle emergencies so expeditiously that the govern¬ 
ment had often sent accident cases to this tiny hospital many miles 
from a railroad. Although he had sent most major surgery cases to 
Bilaspur by tonga or bullock cart, he had often in emergencies 
handled such surgery successfully himself. And—Victor discov¬ 
ered to his utter astonishment—he had performed hundreds of 
operations for cataract. 

It had started ten years ago, soon after Dr. Gordon left. A patient 
came to him, not a poor man, but the head man of his village. "Dr. 
Hira Lai," he said, "this cataract of mine. I want you to take it out." 

"Oh, no!" protested Hira Lai. "I am not a professional doctor, a 
surgeon. In fact. I'm nobody much. You must go to Bilaspur where 
there is a government hospital and a qualified surgeon." 

"No," said the man firmly. "I won't go to the civil surgeon. Dr. 
Hira Lai, I'd rather become blind after you operate than to have the 
best surgery by anybody else. I'll stay blind if you don't operate." 




82 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


And what could the little doctor do? He had a few instruments 
left by his teacher, a fixation forceps, a von Graefe knife, an iris 
forceps, a speculum, something to keep the eye open, and a 
strabismus hook to express the cataract. He had often seen Dr. 
Gordon perform the operation. He did it successfully, and after 
that he operated on demand, for blindness was one of the terrible 
scourges of India, more tragic even than such killing diseases as 
cholera, smallpox, and plague. Blindness was a living death. It 
meant isolation, idleness, hopelessness, and for many, starvation 
or a lifetime of begging. Without sight the farmer could not plow or 
sow or harvest. The potter could not turn his wheel. The leather 
worker, the seamster, and the worker in brass or copper were 
helpless to ply their trades. Even the sweeper, lowest of outcastes, 
must have eyes to wield his short broom or carry away the night 
soil to the fields. A child—and children, even babies, were more 
readily victims of cataract in this land of disease, glaring sun, and 
malnutrition—could anticipate only a lifetime of groping down 
lanes, grasping a stick held in the hand of a guide. 

Operations on cataract were no new development in India. They 
were older than the Taj Mahal, than the Kutab Minar, even than the 
stone carvings at Ellora and Ajanta dating from far before the 
Christian era. For thousands of years the "coucher" had traveled 
over India, placing his mat by the roadside and laying out his tools. 
The blind would come flocking. With a handmade keratome, 
perhaps in recent times a broken razor blade honed to a sharp 
point, he would make an incision in the cornea at the limbus. Into 
this opening he would thrust a triangular probe and push the 
hardened lens to one side, back into the vitreous. Because the 
cornea is somewhat insensitive the operation would cause little 
pain. The immediate result might well seem a miracle, for the 
patient would at once gain fair vision. But much too often various 
reactions would soon set in without the proper sterilization, and 
great agony as well as blindness would often result. One survey 
made in Madras estimated that within three years after couching, 
97 percent of patients had lost the use of the eye. The coucher was 
incredibly skillful, and the technique would be passed on from one 
generation to the next. He would travel alone and move constantly, 
going from one village, one city to another, and because he found 
cataracts everywhere he went, he invariably prospered. The prac¬ 
tice would later be outlawed by the Indian government, but so 
great was the need and so popular were the couchers that the law 
would be almost impossible to enforce. 

For seventeen years Hira Lai had been the loved and respected 



83 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 

head of the hospital. Now, willingly, humbly, and thankfully, he 
yielded his place to the newcomer. 

"You, Sahib, are the doctor," he insisted. "I am here only to be 
your poor but willing helper." 

Victor assumed all responsibility for surgery but attempted no 
cataract operations, in which he had had no practical experience. 
Anyway, it was not the "cataract season," the time of year in the 
Indian calendar considered favorable for such surgery. But there 
were many emergencies. Often Victor would take Hira Lai's ad¬ 
vice, even persuade him occasionally to go ahead with some part of 
the surgery. And always he was amazed at the man's skill. He 
wished he could have known Dr. Gordon, the woman who had 
recognized such talent and developed it so expertly. They worked 
together in perfect rapport. They agreed that healing was a 
spiritual business, and there was always prayer both before and 
after each operation, in fact accompanying every meeting with a 
patient. The doctor, each believed, was merely the instrument 
through whom God worked. Moreover, prayer, which the patient 
could understand, was one of the most effective means of bearing 
witness to the healing and saving power of the Christian gospel. 

Victor found no lack of variety in his surgical cases. Many in¬ 
volved childbirth emergencies, such as transverse presentations, 
breaches, infection, and other complications resulting from the 
delivery service of some ignorant barber's wife, the traditional 
midwife of India. Injuries resulting from accidents were common, 
sometimes requiring amputations following neglect or gangrenous 
infection caused often by too-tight application of splints by the 
"fracture man" of a village. Patients came from all directions and in 
all kinds of conveyances—ox carts, tongas, and rickshaws. A child 
or occasionally an adult might be carried on a charpoi (string cot), 
reminding one of the man sick with palsy brought to Jesus on his 
bed. A baby or cripple might lie or sit in a basket poised on a 
mother's or wife's head. 

Victor never clashed wills or words with the kindly and self- 
effacing Hira Lai, but that was not the case with some of his fellow 
missionaries on the compound. He was independent and outspo¬ 
ken. Once when a meeting was being held in the "Big Bungalow" 
occupied by Mr. Benlehr and his family, a hasty remark of Victor's 
aroused the other missionary's ire, and there was too warm an 
exchange. Victor decided it was time to leave for the hospital, but 
he had no sooner arrived than Mr. Benlehr followed, doubtless to 
continue the argument. Fortunately it was Victor's prayer time 
and, having gathered his workers together, he had dropped to his 




84 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


knees and begun to pray aloud. His fellow missionary, unable to 
interrupt, returned to the meeting in a quieter mood. 

"Well," he told the others with shamefaced humor, "Victor hit 
me—over God's shoulder." 

Part of Benlehr's work was direction of a small leprosarium 
about a furlong from the hospital, and Victor went there for medi¬ 
cal service. It was there that an event occurred that was to pro¬ 
foundly change his life. Not long after his arrival, most of the 
leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) patients were moved to a 
new center at Jarhagaon, where Benlehr continued to direct the 
work, commuting from Mungeli. But a couple of the pukka shel¬ 
ters used as dormitories were left on the old site, still occupied by 
one or two leprosy patients. One day a man came to the hospital 
from this little colony, his wife leading him, for he was blind. Like 
many sufferers from Hansen's disease, he had been left without 
normal fingers and toes by injuries resulting from lack of sensitiv¬ 
ity in his hands and feet; but he could hold a cane clumsily in one 
hand. Without the tender ministrations of his faithful wife, he 
would have been utterly helpless. There was no trace of leprosy 
stigmata on his face, eyes, or eyelids, but examination showed that 
he had cataracts in both eyes. When the man had been treated for 
some minor ailment and the two had gone back to the old leprosy 
building for the night, Hira Lai turned eagerly to Victor. 

"He could be made to see, Doctor-ji. You must remove his 
cataract." 

"I?" Victor was startled. "But—you're the one who does 
cataracts, Hira Lai. You've done hundreds of them. I've never done 
one." 

"You are the surgeon, Doctor-ji," said the other simply."I am just 
your poor assistant. I did cataracts, yes, but only because there was 
no real doctor. Now you are here." 

For the first time since starting his work in Mungeli, Victor felt 
uncertain, inadequate. Here was Hira Lai, who had performed 
hundreds of the operations with apparent success. Here was him¬ 
self, the trained surgeon, who had never done one. Why, Victor 
asked himself, had he not realized that cataracts were endemic to 
India, so that he could have acquired more practical experience in 
ophthalmology in Pennsylvania Hospital? But here was a chal¬ 
lenge, and he was not one to avoid confrontations, whether in a 
fencing bout, mission office, or surgery. A general surgeon in India 
who could not operate on cataracts was as out of character as a 
gynecologist who could not deliver babies. 

"Achchha, good," he said decisively to Hira Lai. "We will do it, of 
course." And, knowing Hira Lai's obstinacy and humility in the 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


85 


presence of the educated surgeon, he feared it was an editorial 
"we." 

Not "to your tents, O Israel," but "to your surgery books, O 
Victor!" Bless his friends of the Rambo Committee who had 
provided him with the wherewithal for a somewhat basic library. 
With quiet concentration he studied everything his books could tell 
him about early and simple operations on eyes and the technique 
of cataract surgery. Much was review, for his classes in anatomy 
and theory in ophthalmology had been thorough, but they could 
not substitute for experience. Thanks to Jimmy Paterson and 
others of the committee he had his tools, the best to be obtained, 
from Grieshaber of Switzerland. 

Although the patient was not infective, there still would have 
been prejudice about admitting him to the hospital. This was in the 
day when even doctors did not yet understand that Hansen's 
disease is less communicable than tuberculosis and usually infec¬ 
tive only after repeated and long, continued contacts. The opera¬ 
tion must be done at the old leprosarium, which made the proceed¬ 
ing far more complicated. As they assembled instruments, medi¬ 
cines, bandages, vessels for boiling water, and a portable operating 
table, Hira Lai continued to give vital encouragement. 

"You have the good hand, Doctor-ji. I have seen you working 
with tissues, and I know. Besides, God will help you." 

With many misgivings but with outward confidence, Victor set 
out on an expedition that was to change the whole course and 
motivation of his life. 

Even when they had arrived at their destination, he felt like an 
actor assailed with stage fright. "You do it this first time," Hira Lai, 
he urged, "and let me watch you." 

"No, Doctor Sahib. You are the surgeon. You can do it." 

Yes, of course he could do it. "Achchha! But stand by me, Hira 
Lai." 

It was the first time he had been called on to operate under crude 
village conditions, the first of many thousands. The two little 
dormitories remaining of the leprosarium were almost bare of 
furnishings. Like many Indian villagers, the occupants slept on 
floor mats or string cots, ate their meals while squatting on the floor 
or porch, used the surrounding fields for toilet facilities, and 
brought water from the river forty feet below a high bank for 
cooking and drinking. 

The operating table was set up on the little porch between the 
two rooms of the little house, and the patient was transferred to it 
from his cot. Boiled water had been brought from the hospital. The 
instruments, already sterilized, were opened from their towel re- 



86 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


ceptacles. The area for surgery was given a thorough wash with 
hospital-boiled water, and a solution of potassium permanganate 
and Mercurochrome for local application was dropped into the 
conjunctival sac of the eye to be operated on. The iris responded 
well to light, and there in view was the white cataract obstructing 
the vision. Victor asked Hira Lai to scrub with him, but the Indian 
was reluctant. This must be Victor's surgery and his alone. A 
crystal of cocaine was dropped into the eye and allowed to desen¬ 
sitize the area. 

Victor offered prayer, more fervent than usual. If ever he had 
needed the touch of the Master Physician, it was now. He assem¬ 
bled his instruments, a spring speculum, a von Graefe knife, an 
iridectomy forceps, an iris scissors, an iris repositor, a fixation 
forceps, a strabismus hook, and a vectis (in case the cataract just 
"disappeared" into the eye globe and had to be fished out). He had 
an ordinary flashlight, not very powerful but sufficient to focus its 
light. With the loupe lens attached to his glasses, he tested his 
vision and found it good. He knew the procedure backward and 
forward, not from experience but from study. Dr. de Schweinitz's 
lectures had been thorough, and his book on eye surgery was the 
standard textbook. He took the von Graefe cataract knife in his 
hand, a small, narrow, millimeter-and-a-half blade, 30 millimeters 
long, blade blunted at the back. It felt very much at home against 
the side of his middle finger, its handle seeming an extension of his 
own hand. 

"Where's your point?" The words came to his mind, as sharp 
and clear as if his fencing master, Terrone, had spoken them. His 
whole life, Victor sensed, had been preparation for a moment like 
this, even the foils with their demand for precise coordination and 
steel-fine yet perfectly controlled tension. 

He proceeded with ease and confidence, using the "Smith 
method" of operation. Picturing the eye as the face of a clock, he 
made an incision from nine o'clock to three. Introducing the iris 
forceps from the twelve o'clock position, he performed a complete 
iridectomy. With a strabismus hook he exerted pressure at six 
o'clock, holding the eye spoon to keep the lips of the wound 
together while the zonule of the lens was broken, the wound 
opened, and the lower edge of the lens presented at the wound. 

Then, lo and behold, he saw something marvelous and challeng¬ 
ing. There inside the newly stretched pupil was the gray, opaque 
lens coming out as the hundreds of extremely tiny "guy ropes" 
called zonules broke, liberating the lens. The cataract was now out 
and discarded. With an iris repositor he realigned the pupil and the 
edges of the opening in the upper iris (called the coloboma of the 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


87 


complete iridectomy). As he withdrew the iris repositor from the 
inside of the eye, the lips of the wound fell together, allowing 
complete closure. Aqueous, the water of the anterior chamber, 
immediately started to fill out the chamber. The pupil was abso¬ 
lutely clear, the anterior chamber partially filled, the cornea clear. It 
was like recreating something infinitely beautiful. He removed the 
speculum. 

"Don't squeeze your eye," he admonished the patient. Both 
eyes were covered with pads and a bandage was lightly applied. 
Both arms were bound. Under their direction the man's wife, 
patient, competent, and wonderfully loyal, took over his care. 

Victor and Hira Lai trudged back to the hospital, praying, com¬ 
forting and encouraging each other, joyful and hopeful. 

" Achchha /" exclaimed Hira Lai with satisfaction. "It was good, 
Doctor-ji. I knew you could do it." 

Good, yes. But would the patient be able to see? And although 
every sanitary precaution had been taken, just as in the hospital, 
could there be the possibility of infection? Would the wife make 
sure that he was kept perfectly quiet? Had he been foolhardy in 
performing an operation not only without experience but under 
conditions that would have shocked his professors? 

The next day Victor found his patient comfortable and coopera¬ 
tive. Every other day he returned to dress the eye. It healed 
perfectly. On the eighth day he removed the bandages for the last 
time. He led the man out of the house into the sunlight and waited 
anxiously, with an expectation that was almost painful. Of course 
his vision could not be perfect, but surely. . . . 

"Tell me, brother," he demanded as the man made no sound, 
only turning his head from side to side. "Can you see?" 

" Ji-han , yes!" The patient raised his hands to his breast, palm to 
palm, in the Indian form of greeting or worship. He dropped to his 
knees. " Achchha , it is good!" Words of gratitude burst from his lips. 
"Sukriya, sukriya, Doctor Sahib!" 

"Don't thank me, brother." Victor fell on his knees beside him. 
"It's the God, Father of our Lord Jesus, who first gave you sight 
and now has given it to you again. Let us both thank Him." 

The man would have only limited vision, of course, and with 
only one eye for now. There was no thought at that time of provid¬ 
ing him with glasses. But he could see enough to get around with 
ease. No longer need his wife wait on him. He could see to take 
food to his mouth. He could make his way along the village lanes 
without being led. He could go down the high bank to the river to 
draw water. Although his fingers were uneven stumps, he could 
stretch out his palm and beg. 



88 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Victor walked back to the hospital. There was only one other 
time when he had felt like this, humbled to the depths, exalted 
beyond the heights, and that was the afternoon Louise had prom¬ 
ised to marry him. Then he had seemed to move on air, his feet not 
touching the earth. Now he moved softly, as if walking on holy 
ground. Words suddenly gained fresh meaning: 

Jesus , son of David, have mercy on me !. . . 

What do you want Me to do for you? 

Master, let me receive my sight !. . . 

Whereas I was blmd, now 1 can see! (Mark 10:47 , 51; John 9:25) 



5 


i-oh! Have you heard? The Doctor Sahib at Mungeli is giving 

/i new eyes! He can make the blind to see!" 

The news spread by that news-spreading method common to 
the Indian countryside, word of mouth. People began coming for 
cataract operations, as they had done in former days to Hira Lai, 
but in greater numbers as their confidence grew in the new foreign 
doctor. Did he not perform wonders heretofore impossible this 
side of the great cities? No longer need you go the hazardous miles 
by ox cart to have a terrible knot untied in your bowels, a stone 
enticed by magic from your body, or a leg or arm that had become 
black and swollen taken away. Now, it was discovered, he could 
also give the blind new eyes. 

It did not happen all at once. After the first operation there was 
an interim when Victor did not perform any cataract surgery, for 
his precious knife had touched some dulling substance, and he had 
sent it away to Switzerland for sharpening. But one by one the 
patients came in increasing numbers, and as his skill improved he 
experienced a delight in the achievement, a delight that no other 
act of surgery was able to give. He was like an artist discovering an 
ideal medium of creativity. Thanks to his fencing experience and 
natural coordination, he had the touch. "Where's your point?" He 
knew exactly where, and the result was cleanness of cut, swiftness, 
neatness, and precision; if not perfection, it was at least a proce¬ 
dure of which an amateur need not be ashamed. 

"You are a master workman, Doctor-ji," said Hira Lai humbly 
after the prayer of thanksgiving following one operation. "It is as if 
our Lord Jesus came again on earth and went about our land, 
making the blind to see." 

Victor made a deprecating gesture. " Nahin , no, Hira Lai, we both 
know I'm no worker of miracles. And I still have much to learn. But 
I'm glad if you think I can do a decent job." 

For some time it was the technique of his new skills that 

89 


90 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


enthralled him, the beauty of neat, delicate incisions, opaqueness 
turning to clearness, the thrill of watching blindness become sight, 
even though dim and blurred it must be without glasses. Then one 
day he was walking on a path outside town toward a nearby 
village. In a field beside the path a man was plowing. Victor stood 
and watched him, admiring the straight furrow, always intrigued 
by the crude yet marvelous simplicity of an Indian plow with its 
two curved pieces of babul wood and its little tip of iron, as ancient 
as the pyramids, perhaps the same sort the boy Jesus had helped 
Joseph fashion in the carpenter shop of Nazareth. The man looked 
up and noticed him. Victor saw his face light with a glow of 
recognition. 

''Doctor Sahib!" he cried joyfully, stumbling across the field and 
lifting soil-stained hands palm to palm in the age-old greeting of 

namaste. 

Victor studied the man's features, trying to place him, coming 
finally to the pupils, one colorless and dull, the other narrowed, 
squinting, but bright with intelligent recognition. He nodded, 
smiling, as he returning the salutation. Of course. He knew the 
man, a patient he had operated on for cataract some weeks before, 
who, even with his limited vision—only one eye operated on and 
no cataract glasses — had been first to recognize the other man, 
even across the neatly plowed furrows. 

"Achchha, brother, good! Do you remember what we told you? It 
was the God of our Lord Jesus who gave you back your sight. Let 
us thank Him again, shall we?" Dropping to his knees on the path, 
Victor made a fervent prayer. As he went on his way, he was 
acutely aware of the blessings of sight, colors and shapes he had 
been taking for granted: the blue of the sky; the fine, mimosalike 
fronds of a nim tree; the flamboyant red orange of a flame of the 
forest tree in blossom; even the brownness of the path under his 
feet. 

Here's a man who was blind , he thought, helpless , and now he is 
plowing, earning a living for himself and his family. It took only five 
minutes, no more. A little surgery , a bandage on his eyes, a few weeks of 
rest, and nozv he's out plowing, doing a good job. Suppose he had always 
remained blind! 

From that day on he became acutely conscious of the prevalence 
of blindness. Of course he had been aware of it before, the sight of 
people, many of them children, feeling their way, groping down 
neem-shaded lanes, begging, grasping a stick held by a guide, 
standing against a wall and staring sightless at the sun. He had 
pitied them and forgotten. Now it was as if he saw them for the first 
time, dismayed by their numbers. The casual sympathy he had 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


91 


once felt became empathy, a sense of actual participation in their 
hopelessness. 

"An Indian villager would rather die than be blind," Hira Lai 
observed once, "yet of course it is against his whole culture and 
religion to commit suicide." 

It was not as though the blind villager received no care. He 
would have the devoted help of his family as long as he lived. But 
his blindness would put them in economic jeopardy, for only by 
working together could the family exist and pay the exorbitant 
interest on the debt most villagers owed to the moneylenders. 

True, there were some who with rare courage and ingenuity 
seemed to have conquered their handicap, like Dukhua, who 
supplied the family with eggs, fruits, and vegetables. About 
twenty-five when they arrived in Mungeli, he had won his wife 
without benefit of sight, fathered two clever, attractive children, 
and kept them fed and growing by his own labor. His wife worked 
also, accepting any tasks available, such as carrying earth, thatch, 
and tiles for building village huts. Both were always cheerful, 
never complaining. Dukhua would take his cane, beat out a path 
through the fields and groves and over the built-up dams of rice 
paddies, find places where eggs or other produce could be secured 
cheaply, and bring them in to Mungeli for sale. If there was a letter 
to be delivered, perhaps to Fosterpur, a smaller mission station 
some miles away, Victor would call Dukhua. To him night meant 
nothing. It was as easy to travel by dark as by daylight. One could 
hear his stick as he came back through the dark, faithful and 
strong. He was a loyal Christian. Often he would find the sick in 
some distant village and bring them in, sometimes in a family 
procession, his stick grasped by the patient or one of his atten¬ 
dants. 

"These people are in need," he would say simply. "Give them 
courage, give them hope, praise the Lord!" 

But even such faith and courage would not always prevail. 
Dukhua lived in a little group of huts some distance from the 
hospital. To reach his home from Mungeli he had to cross a bridge 
over a stream, in the dry season a mere trickle but in the monsoons 
a raging torrent. On one trip in later years he would have to cross 
over that causeway when the stream was in flood. Robbers knew 
that he had been taking goods to Mungeli and was carrying money. 
Unable to see, he could not defend himself. They took his money, 
pushed him off the bridge, and let him drown. 

One day Victor was walking along a path and saw a blind man 
coming toward him. Unwittingly the man placed his bare foot on a 
dump of thorns. Stooping to remove the thorns from his foot, he 



92 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


put down the other, and that too was pierced with thorns. To 
remove them he sat down on the ground, and once more he landed 
in the thorns. Before hastening forward to help him, Victor 
watched him, feeling in his own feet the sharp thrusts of pain, in 
his own body the despair of the tortured figure crouched on the 
ground. In that moment he knew what he must do. 

Like other decisions made swiftly but with a sense of divine 
leading—to pledge himself as a missionary, to become a doctor— 
this one was eventually to change the whole direction and purpose 
of his life. It was a commitment that was to possess him, mind, 
soul, and body, from that day forward. To implement it he would 
have liked to leave India at once for Philadelphia, enroll in the 
famous Wills Eye Hospital with its free clinics, and study for one 
year, two, or whatever time was necessary to become a specialist in 
ophthalmology. It was impossible, of course, at present, but the 
purpose was firm and must eventually find fulfillment. Meanwhile 
he must study his books and improve his skills as much as possible 
through his rapidly growing experience. 

The burden of work became constantly heavier as the Doctor 
Sahib's reputation for successful surgery, especially with cataracts, 
brought more and more patients from the town and the surround¬ 
ing 250 villages. During this first term of over six years Victor had 
no nurse, and often he himself was nurse, anesthetist, diagnosti¬ 
cian, records keeper, as well as medical director and surgeon. On 
one occasion he nursed a patient until two in the morning, leaving 
only the night watchman in charge, then came on duty again at 
seven. His only assistants were Hira Lai and the two pharmacists, 
Bansi Lai and Ahsan Ali. There were clinics every weekday, atten¬ 
dance running anywhere between fifty and eighty. Beds were 
usually full, with patients often lying on mats, occasionally under 
the beds, filling every available space on floors and verandahs. 

Meanwhile during those first years the family was adjusting 
with increasing ease to the routine of life in the strange environ¬ 
ment. They went to Landour again in the summer of 1925 for more 
language study. In the fall of that year they were able to have a 
home of their own. Mr. Benlehr, who had been in charge of the 
leprosarium, had moved to another station in Takhatpur on the 
Bilaspur road thirteen miles from Mungeli. The Benlehrs had 
occupied what was called Big Bungalow, the first one built back in 
the 1880s. Now MrjVloody, the district evangelist, moved into this 
house with his family, leaving Bungalow Number 2 available for 
the Rambos. It was a much better location, across the ravine and 
not far from the hospital. From this time on it would be known as 
the "Doctor's Bungalow." 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


93 


The new home was fairly large, with whitewashed plaster walls. 
One big room stretched from the front to the back of the house; 
they divided it into living and dining rooms. There were two large 
bedrooms on the left, one leading off from each section. At the 
right, off the living room, was a small bedroom. Behind it, reached 
by a door from the dining room, were a pantry and a storeroom, 
with a short passage leading to the kitchen and other storerooms. 
Cement floors were covered by mattings. As in most mission 
bungalows of the period, ceilings were high, perhaps twenty feet. 
Each of the large bedrooms had its own dressing room and bath, 
the latter a cement cubicle with shelves for water jars, a crude 
toilet, and a drained section for the usual "pour bath." There were 
porches back and front. 

For the first time Louise was her own household manager. It was 
not an easy transition but rather a time of adjustment, learning to 
superintend a group of servants, taking care of one child with 
another soon to be on the way—a whole new manner of life. There 
was almost no furniture—beds, a dining table, chairs—a few 
items bought secondhand from families in the mission who were 
going home on furlough or retirement. But gradually other articles 
were added, many ordered from the mission carpenter shop in 
Damoh. There was of course no plumbing in the house when they 
moved in, but after a few years there would be cement tubs, wash 
basins, and flush toilets (flushed with a bucket). Still later a big 
tank would be set up outside, to be filled by the gardener carrying 
buckets of water from the well in the garden, thus providing 
"running water." 

The Mungeli bazaar was limited in merchandise, carrying 
brassware, pottery, vegetables, fruits, cotton saris, and dhotis, but 
few things considered necessities by Westerners. For other things 
one had to go to Bilaspur. Miss Fleming, as well as Mr. Moody, had 
a car, and both of them were kind about taking store lists or 
passengers when they went to the city. In fact, Miss Fleming and 
Miss Franklin were more than kind. With sacrificial generosity they 
turned over to the Rambos their servant Dukhua, whom they had 
trained in cooking. Louise found a woman to help with the house¬ 
work and an ayah, Panchobai, who was invaluable in caring for 
Helen. 

"This is the way it has to be," she told herself cheerfully, and 
little by little, like Kate before her, she learned the necessary skills 
of household management in this strange environment. These 
included making sure the drinking water was boiled and the green 
vegetables, even from their own garden, were thoroughly treated 
to prevent dysentery; struggling for the cleanest possible wash 



94 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


with the least possible damage to the clothes; testing the milk 
brought by the cowherd to make certain he had not slipped in a 
measure of water; planning meals from the limited ingredients the 
cook was able to procure in the bazaar; playing the gracious hostess 
to missionaries and other visitors whose presence often turned the 
bungalow into a hotel; and above all providing a serene, well- 
ordered retreat for a human dynamo whose energies were in¬ 
exhaustible and whose goings and comings were as unpredictable 
as the monsoons. 

Summer vacations offered the chief departures from routine. 
With the soaring of heat in April, most missionary wives and 
children left for the hills. In 1926 Louise and Helen went with 
Esther Potee, whom she had known intimately in Harda, and her 
two children, Carol and Gale, to Murree, close to the border of 
Kashmir. Then when Ken Potee arrived in early May they pro¬ 
ceeded with him by car to Kashmir, where they lived in tents in 
Nasimbagh. After his six weeks of vacation Ken returned to Harda, 
leaving his wife and two children to remain until August. It was 
Louise's first long separation from Victor, and the four months, 
harbingers of many more such summers to come, seemed an 
eternity. Even the beauties of Kashmir, a heaven of mountains, 
lakes, flowers, and coolness, could not atone for loneliness. He 
arrived finally in August, looking even leaner and lankier but still 
buoyant after his long bout with the 110 degree heat of the plains. 
In September they left by car for Rawalpindi, and from there they 
took the train for Bilaspur by way of Katni. 

Floods or droughts! India, it seemed, was a land of excesses. 
Thirty years before, Kate had found it so, one year fording the 
swollen streams to save the life of her baby, another doling gruel to 
save the lives of other women's babies who were dying because of 
famine. Times had not changed. At Katni they learned that floods 
had carried away a railroad bridge between there and Bilaspur. 
What were they to do? They could take a detour, much longer, via 
Jubbulpore and Nagpur, or take a chance that they could get across 
the "break." 

"They hope to put mail across," they were told, "and there 
might be a train waiting on the other side." Hope. Might. They 
decided to take the chance. 

At the river there was a raft on pontoons, hauled across by a 
rope. They were put aboard along with the mail and their luggage. 
just so, thought Louise, but with far greater hardship and danger, Kate 
had journeyed across swollen rivers to save her child. Eight months 
pregnant with another of her own, she felt a new and peculiar 
affinity with this woman who had encountered so-much-greater 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


95 


obstacles. On the other side they did find a train waiting. They 
arrived in Bilaspur that evening but found no one waiting, for 
because of the broken bridge they were not expected. Their 
missionary friends the Sauns found them well settled in their 
house when they returned from a prayer meeting. It was several 
days before they were able to reach Mungeli. 

A month later they were again in Bilaspur, Helen in the care of 
Mrs. Saun, Louise in the Jackson Memorial Hospital, where on 
October 31 her second child was born. This time it was "Little 
Victor." Victor Birch he was named, usually to be called Birch. Dr. 
Hope Nichoson, whom Victor regarded as "one of the finest medi¬ 
cal missionaries and surgeons and teachers that ever went out to 
serve the Lord as Jesus did," was the attending doctor. It was well 
that Victor had insisted on the superior facilities of the Bilaspur 
hospital, for Birch presented problems soon after his birth. "It was 
Dr. Nichoson's constant care and attention," Victor admitted later 
with fervent gratitude, "that saved our son's life." 

As for the exceptional woman he had married and who at age 
twenty-two had mothered two children, obtained higher marks in 
Hindi than he to whom it had been almost a native language, 
adjusted herself with poise and efficiency to the customs of a 
strange land, and endeared herself to all with whom she came in 
contact, Victor would always be at a loss to express his wonder and 
gratitude. But he would try. 

"Such a woman," he was to write years later, "never was nor will 
be again. In gracious thoughtfulness supreme with good sense, 
and superb loyalty to the human race individually and collectively, 
yet above the host in humility, unbowed except to God!" 

It was some months later in this same mission hospital in Bilas¬ 
pur that Victor officiated at another birth that presented a new 
challenge of surgery. In Dr. Hope Nichoson's absence he had been 
called to attend some of the more urgent cases. When engaged in 
the delivery of the baby of Mrs. Ali, a nurse and teacher and the 
wife of the hospital driver, he found himself facing a new kind of 
surgery. There was not enough room for the baby to come through, 
even if one attempted to turn the fetus around and deliver it by 
podalic version, feet first. A Caesarean section was called for, an 
operation he had never performed alone. 

He knew the answer to that. To your books again, O Victor! 
Studying the process carefully, he lined up the "what to do's" and 
the "what not to do's." Then, without excitement, as in his first 
cataract operation, he proceeded, making a long incision, opening 
the uterus, removing the baby, and sewing up with larger needles, 
bringing the child, Mary Ali, into the world. He felt no triumph. It 



96 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


was just another new job to be done. There were no cheers, no 
firecrackers. The real triumph would come twenty years later 
when he was to teach Mary Ali, his first Caesarean baby, to handle 
ophthalmology along with her general surgery. 

As the workload increased in Mungeli, Victor was constantly 
exploring possibilities for the hospital's expansion. More doctors 
were desperately needed, but medical missionaries, at least those 
recruited by his own board, were deplorably few. Yet—why neces¬ 
sarily missionaries? Indians were being trained for medicine all the 
time right there in India in the medical schools of the universities, 
men in the Christian Medical School at Miraj and women in Dr. Ida 
Scudder's Christian Medical School in Vellore and at the similar 
institution at Ludhiana. Why shouldn't his own mission be taking 
advantage of such opportunities? 

"We should be training our young Indians to be doctors," he said 
to Hira Lai. "Do you know any good prospects?" 

Hira Lai's face lighted. He suggested that Victor write to W. E. 
Gordon, who was the superintendent of mission schools in Jhansi 
and who might know of young men fitted for such study. Victor did 
so. Did Mr. Gordon have any teachers or students whom he 
considered promising material for medical study? Mr. Gordon 
recommended two young men. In fact, he had once asked these 
two if they would be interested in studying medicine, and they had 
been eager to. Both had had training in science and mathematics 
that should qualify them for entrance into the Presbyterian mission 
medical school at Miraj. 

One of the young men was Prabhu Dayal Sukhnandan, the son 
of an Indian of the weaver caste who had come to the Mungeli 
mission at age twelve nearly dead from starvation in the days of 
famine, had grown up in the boys' home, and later had been sent 
to school. With other Christians he and his family had been settled 
in Pendrideh, a village established by the mission nine miles from 
Mungeli, a place where families despoiled by the famine could 
once more own land and become independent. 

The other young man was Philip James. One day years before, 
Hira Lai, passing along the road with the Indian pastor of Mungeli, 
blind Gulali, had seen a sick man lying by the roadside. "Padri-ji, 
he had said, "there is a man at the side of the road who looks very 
sick." 

"Is he alone?" 

"No. There's a little boy, perhaps eight years old, with him." 

"What seems to be the matter with the man?" 

"He is breathing very fast and with difficulty." 

"Of course we must help him." 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


97 


They had taken the two back to the mission, and Dr. Gordon had 
given the man medicine for his asthma and a room they could stay 
in as long as they wished. When little Jaita grew up and became a 
Christian, he took the surname of James and married Rambha Bai, 
a lovely girl from the Bilaspur girls' boarding home. Their first son 
was named Philip. With Prabhu Dayal Sukhnandan, the boy had 
gone two years to college in Allahabad. 

Victor wasted no time writing to Miraj. The Presbyterian medical 
school for men took students without college degrees and, al¬ 
though it was not qualified to award the M.B.B.S. (Bachelor of 
Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) degree, it gave a licentiate after 
four years of medicine plus one of internship, training almost 
comparable to that of a university. Yes, was the reply. The school 
would take recommended students if the mission could provide 
scholarships. 

Immediately Victor consulted Mr. Alexander, the mission secre¬ 
tary representing the United Christian Mission Society. He pre¬ 
sented a glowing picture of the need for more doctors and the 
possibilities of training Indian Christians for service to their own 
people. 

"But," the secretary said regretfully, "we don't give scholar¬ 
ships." 

All Victor's arguments were of no avail. He was battering his 
head against the concrete walls of rules and precedent. For the first 
time he understood how his father had felt, seeing his dream 
relentlessly destroyed by those of narrower vision. History was 
repeating itself. He and his father, he realized, were of the same 
tough and bucking breed, both destined to be innovators and likely 
to be unpopular with mission agency bureaucrats. But either times 
had changed or he, Victor, possessed a tougher quality of resis¬ 
tance than Eagle. Even their names were significant. An eagle 
soared, but a victor fought. He had a good idea, and he meant to 
carry it out. 

How ? The word itself was suggestive, a reminder of the man who 
had made possible a victory over far-more-formidable odds. 
Without Dana How and the other members of the Rambo Commit¬ 
tee, he himself could not have become a doctor. Well, they were 
still there, still prayerful supporters of him and his work. Now he 
needed more than prayer. He wrote a letter to James G. Biddle, 
who, because of a moment's "wondhap," believed that he owed 
the life of a beloved daughter to Victor Rambo. 

"Please help me." The letter was frankly begging. It went on to 
tell of the two young men, the great need, and the opportunity for 
rewarding spiritual investment. The reply came back immediately. 



98 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


with a check for $100 and a promise to tell other friends of the need. 

Victor was jubilant. At that time $100 meant 400 rupees, enough 
to give the boys a good start. He sent them to Miraj, confident that 
a way would be found to keep them there. Four or five years were a 
long time to wait for them, and if there was one quality Victor 
lacked it was patience. But with Hira Lai as his assistant and 
enough strength and volition to act at times as nurse, surgeon, lab 
technician, records secretary, as well as frequent preacher and 
evangelist, on duty around the clock, he had no time for frustration 
or self-pity. 

Victor's reputation as an eye surgeon grew steadily. It was 
broadcast all over the countryside, and people came by twos, by 
threes and fours, sometimes in a whole group. In an ordinary week 
there might be sixty operations, many of them for cataract. 

Despite his nearly one-hundred-percent success with cataract 
surgery and his increasing skill gained through experience, Victor 
felt a great need for further training. More and more he was 
confronted with new problems in the treatment of eyes—not only 
cataracts but refractions, glaucoma, and intuming and outturning 
edges of lids—and he was unable to cope with them to his satisfac¬ 
tion. It was 1928, still two years from his furlough, too long to wait 
for extended time that might be spent in study. He knew that there 
was a Dr. Macphail right there in India who was removing 
thousands of cataracts each year. 

"Could I come up," Victor wrote him, "and spend a month with 
you?" The answer was an enthusiastic yes. 

Dr. James Macphail was in Bamdah in the Ranchi area of Bihar, 
200 miles from Mungeli. He had come out to India in 1889 to join 
the Santal mission of what was then known as the Free Church of 
Scotland. He had begun work almost at once, using the verandah 
of the mission bungalow as his operating "theater," and not until 
1894 was a hospital built. On his first furlough in Scotland he had 
married Dr. Jennie Wells, who had joined him in his work in 
Bamdah in 1898. Their son, Ronald, also a doctor, had joined his 
father on the staff in 1925. Victor was fortunate to secure this 
experience when he did, for Dr. James Macphail was to die the 
following year, 1929. 

Bamdah was eighteen miles from the railroad that went through 
Ranchi, 2,100 feet above sea level, the summer capital of Bihar. The 
weeks there were as full of inspiration as of instruction for Victor. 
Dr. Macphail, his rich brogue as redolent of his background as 
Scottish heather, was as sweet and dedicated a Christian as Hira 
Lai. Life with him and his wife was a time of fellowship as well as 
training. They discharged their duties in perfect harmony. While 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


99 


his wife performed hundreds of operations on hemorrhoids in one 
part of the hospital, in another Dr. Macphail was doing his 
thousands of cataracts, besides being in full charge of the whole 
mission work, school, hospital, and evangelism. At five in the 
afternoon he would leave the hospital, go and inspect the school, 
perhaps visit some village between teatime and dinner. Even at 
meals his mind was never inactive, his curiosity never sated. A 
question might come up at breakfast, perhaps a definition of some 
medical term. If a spoonful of porridge was halfway to his mouth 
he would put it down, rush off, and look up the word in the 
dictionary. 

For Victor the weeks spent in Bamdah were equivalent to 
months of graduate study in ophthalmology. Dr. Macphail did not 
operate on immature cataracts. This meant that the eye could not 
see to count fingers but had good light perception. It also meant 
that the fundus was not visible when he looked through an oph¬ 
thalmoscope. Then, when the tension was taken and there was no 
rise or undue fall, the eye was considered right for surgery. Victor 
learned to copy Dr. Macphail's swift but delicate technique, taking 
the point of the knife, cutting into the anterior chamber over the 
cataract, and lifting up the handle and scratching — oh, so 
delicately!—the capsule. Sometimes the capsule was almost like 
feathers, a soft kind of thing; sometimes it was leathery, and 
scratching it made strips that in turn had to be further minced. 
When that anterior capsule was scratched off in little pieces, the 
incision was finished. The bits of capsule came out with the aque¬ 
ous. Then followed the expression. Out came the nucleus, carrying 
along with it remains of the minced capsule. Finally came the 
peripheral iridectomy leaving at twelve o'clock an opening, irrigat¬ 
ing the anterior chamber when necessary. 

There was no dearth of patients. They came from a score, a 
hundred, even a thousand kilometers away, from cities northeast 
of Calcutta, from the forest homes of aboriginal tribes. One man 
and his companion had come from Arabia. As Victor performed 
one operation after another, he exulted in each fresh awareness of 
confidence, of skill. He felt again a satisfaction in achievement that 
no other form of medical work had ever yielded. 

"Good, Victor." The Scotsman's frugality with words made 
every expression of praise an accolade. "You have the touch. Each 
day you improve. But just remember. ..." He would follow with 
further advice and warnings. He was a stern critic who demanded 
perfection. 

From Dr. Macphail Victor learned much more also about the 
general care of eyes and how to do refractions. So intensive was the 



100 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


training, even though only a month long, that he returned to 
Mungeli with knowledge and skill amounting to at least a year of 
residence in ophthalmology. In fact he had so many surgical cases 
to his credit that he wrote them up and applied for his F.A.C.S. 
(Fellow of the American College of Surgeons). Before leaving for 
India he had talked with Dr. Chevalier Jackson, eminent oto¬ 
laryngologist, inventor of the bronchoscope, famous for his work 
in removing foreign bodies from the lungs and other deep tissues, 
and learned that a missionary would not be charged membership 
fees in the College of Surgeons. Otherwise he could not have 
applied. His credentials were accepted, and in 1929 he was 
awarded his F.A.C.S. 

Back in Mungeli, the burden of work became heavier. The work 
had grown to such proportions that Victor had little time to spare 
for home and family. The playtime with the children he so loved, 
Helen and Birch, had to be snatched at odd hours, as when they 
swarmed onto his bed early in the morning for "rough house," 
violent ups and downs and backs and forths that sometimes re¬ 
sulted in a few tears because of a bump on bedpost or floor but 
were always considered fun by everyone. "A warm sense of being 
loved by Daddy filled my childhood," Helen was to remember. 

She was to recall also that on occasion he could wield the razor 
strap when rules were broken, especially the most important one, 
"Always be respectful and obedient to Mother." But most of her 
early memories were happy ones of Daddy coming from the hospi¬ 
tal for lunch, striding briskly into the living room, showing her six 
or eight cataracts he had removed that morning, while she stared 
in wonder; of Daddy saying her bedtime prayers, "Make Helen a 
good girl and a brave girl," and always praying for the entire roster 
of aunts, uncles, and cousins, most of whom she had never seen. 
When she did meet them later, she would feel a warm closeness 
and affection, because she had been praying for them as long as 
she could remember. 

There were also the few precious weeks when he was able to join 
the family in the mountains. That year of 1928, instead of going to 
Landour, where Helen had been hospitalized the previous sum¬ 
mer for pneumonia, they went to Kodaikanal in the south, a place 
they liked so much better that never again would they go to 
Landour for their holidays. Kodaikanal was also a haven for 
missionaries of many denominations in the hot season, among 
them Dr. Ida Scudder. In March of that year she had seen the 
triumphant dedication of her new hospital buildings, and in the 
previous year her medical college for women had been honored by 
a visit from Mahatma Gandhi, whose nonviolent program of civil 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


101 


disobedience was already challenging the colonial might of the 
British Empire. 

The Rambos did not see Dr. Ida that summer, for that intrepid 
pioneer, then nearly sixty years old, was trekking over the 
mountains of Kashmir, five hundred miles of them on foot, then 
leaving for furlough in America. But they could visit her new 
summer home called Hill Top, completed just two years before, 
inspect its spacious rooms always open to guests, wander through 
its famous gardens full of rare plant varieties, look out over the 
southern plains from its site atop a seven thousand foot mountain, 
hear the echo of Dr. Ida's oft-repeated prayer of gratitude: 


"Oh God, if this be Your footstool, 
What must Your throne be!" 


The time for the Rambos' first furlough came in 1930. It could 
hardly be called a year of rest. Already Victor sensed that he was on 
the threshold of boundless challenge and opportunity. The call to 
this new commitment was as clear and inevitable as the one in the 
Wichita church, and he responded to it with the same unswerving 
and single-minded zeal. He was not a halfway person. For him, 
commitment was not merely intention or even purpose. It was 
passion, obsession. Henceforth he would pursue one goal, sight 
for the millions of curable blind in India. 

If he was to become an ophthalmologist, he had to be the best 
that training could provide. His books had served him well. Dr. 
deSchweinitz and his lectures at Pennsylvania Hospital had been 
good preparation. Dr. Macphail had increased his skill and knowl¬ 
edge. But in spite of a few hundred operations he was still a novice. 
Of course a missionary was expected to spend most of his furlough 
visiting churches and making speeches, gaining support (includ¬ 
ing money) for the work. Knowing his board, he could scarcely 
hope for a whole year devoted to further medical study. But surely 
they could not object to some months of summer vacation. 

"Edinburgh," he planned with Louise. "In Philadelphia there 
would be too many distractions, invitations difficult to refuse. 
Besides, Edinburgh has some of the finest eye specialists and 
professors in the world." 

His passport, secured in February 1930 at the office of the United 
States consulate general in Calcutta, read: "Victor C. Rambo, 
Height 6 feet 1 inch, hair brown, eyes hazel." "Distinguishing 
features" was left blank. No distinguishing features? Perhaps 
there were none by passport standards. He had no scars, birth 



102 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


defects, or abnormalities. But the most casual observer would have 
noted that the eyes behind the round-rimmed spectacles were 
steel-bright and keenly probing, that the six feet plus were as thin 
as a rail. Many people would attempt to describe him and, like the 
four blind men with the elephant, succeed only in pinpointing 
some one feature of appearance or personality. A journalist would 
picture "a tall, angular figure striding by like a lurching steplad- 
der," his voice a "fortissimo baritone." A small child who heard 
him speak in an American church would always conceive of a 
missionary as "a tall, skinny man, running not walking, sort of at a 
45 degree angle, with a shock of thick hair and a strange sounding 
voice, slightly foreign in timbre, a man who would get down on his 
bony knees to pray at the drop of a hat." 

They left on furlough in early May, traveling with the Moody 
family on an Italian ship to Europe, then overland to England. 
Victor remained in Edinburgh for study while Louise and the 
children went on by ship to America, to be met in New York by her 
mother and brother. They spent the summer in Germantown with 
her mother in the house on Harvey Street, occupying an apartment 
that her mother had constructed on the third floor after her father's 
death in 1918 and that conveniently happened to be vacant. 

For Louise it was a restful summer. The weeks of separation were 
easier to bear than on the mountains of India, for there was the 
delight of renewed association with family, who met the children 
for the first time, and with old friends of her college days. She was 
especially happy to see Helen Fraser, known to all her friends as 
"Tuck," who had been her roommate in her second year at Wilson. 
Tuck had finished college and gone on to study medicine at the 
Philadelphia Women's Medical College, where she had been a 
classmate of Ida B. Scudder, Dr. Ida's niece and namesake. Tuck 
had been Louise's maid of honor in 1923, and during this furlough 
Louise would be an attendant at her wedding in Pittsburgh. Tuck 
and her husband, Kirk West, would also become missionaries, 
serving under the Presbyterian church in China until the Com¬ 
munist takeover. That fall of 1930, Louise rejoiced in the engage¬ 
ment of another old friend, Connie Covell, to her brother, Tom; and 
the following January she saw them married. 

After three months of grueling study in Edinburgh, Victor joined 
his family. Eagle and Kate were living in Portland, Oregon, but 
they came east and took an apartment in Germantown so the two 
families could be close together. It was now that Victor discovered 
what an interesting family he had married into, as Tom took him 
around the rooms in his mother's house and showed him the 
original prints of historic Philadelphia and famous marine scenes. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


103 


"Why didn't she tell me!" Victor was nonplused, humbled. Here 
he had lived for six years with this amazing woman, regaled her 
with details of his forebears to the extent of his knowledge, boasted 
with modest but pardonable pride of their pioneer hardihood, 
educational prowess, and exploits in India and Turkey, yet she had 
never once mentioned that her own included some of the famous 
artists of England and America. 

Fall brought a life of routine. Helen attended first grade at a small 
private school a few blocks away, and Birch went to preschool in a 
nearby church. Victor started the round of speaking engagements 
expected of a missionary on furlough. His tours were eminently 
successful, perhaps too much so, for his popularity began to 
eclipse that of some church leaders in the higher echelons. In fact 
after some months his father, back in Portland, sent him a letter of 
warning. 

"At the Oregon Convention we heard that you are the best 
appealer and the most outstanding missionary our church has. It 
was grand, but I feel I must issue a word of caution." He quoted 
from his own experience. His unique work at Damoh had gained 
interest in America and among visitors far above that in the usual 
mission activity and had undoubtedly roused the green of envy in 
some other missionaries. It may even have been partially responsi¬ 
ble for the closing of his orphanage and industrial school. "I would 
have you profit by my mistakes. Look out for the green and have a 
care. I am praying that you may keep yourself humble. Do the 
work and avoid hauteur over it. Remember my second term. The 
green won out." 

It was not only the churches that responded to the stimulus of 
Victor's enthusiasm. By now the Rambo Committee was an ac¬ 
tively functioning and well-organized body with the university 
Christian Association its nucleus, Harry J. Tiedeck its official head, 
and Dana How its principal adviser. Other prominent members 
were Earl Harrison and Thomas B. K. Ringe, both able lawyers. 
The treasurer of the Christian Association, Phelps Todd, was also 
treasurer of the committee. The hospital at Mungeli was in dire 
need of medical equipment, and the committee, apprised by Victor 
of the need, was collecting funds to meet it. Already they had 
raised over a thousand dollars. 

It was during this furlough, in 1931, that Victor was asked to 
perform an unusual mission. It was known in New York medical 
circles that he was a physician who had handled leprosy in a 
country in which the disease was endemic. Two patients were to be 
sent by Pullman to Carville, Louisiana, the only public health 
hospital for leprosy in America. "Will you accompany them?" 



104 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


came the request. Of course he would. He had treated Hansen's 
disease routinely in India as the doctor in charge of the lep¬ 
rosarium, first in Mungeli, then at Jarhagaon. He had no more fear 
of the disease than of any other mildly contagious ailment. True, he 
had taken precautions against infection, scrubbing his hands and 
sloshing his feet and shoes through strong antiseptic when return¬ 
ing from the center—the latter, at least, if he did not forget it. He 
had never known of a missionary or doctor who had contracted the 
disease, except one missionary's child. Possibly in this case the 
child's ayah had had no medical check and at a contagious stage of 
the disease had held him in her arms countless times. It was 
usually children exposed at dose range over long periods who 
were susceptible to contagion. 

Used to the casual prevalence of the disease in India, he found 
the elaborate precautions here almost ludicrous, concessions to a 
superstitious fear dating from Bible times that equated leprosy 
with uncleanness, untouchability, and sin, even though the 
modern disease was not even akin to biblical leprosy. In this in¬ 
stance there would have been small danger of contagion even had 
the two patients not been "burned-out" cases. 

The Pullman was empty when he arrived, and an ambulance 
was waiting. Sterile gloves and antiseptics were supplied. The two 
patients were installed in separate compartments, which were 
locked. Dr. Kehler, a Philadelphia physician, was in charge of one 
patient, later to be known as Stanley Stein, who would become a 
leader in introducing many reforms at Carville and in educating for 
a better understanding of leprosy. Victor's charge was a man 
named Polack, a Dutchman with an advanced form of the disease 
and other complications, who was actually expected to die during 
the night. Victor nursed him through successfully. He brought the 
two patients their meals on paper plates and slept little, alerted to 
every need of his charge. He sat for hours looking out the com¬ 
partment window, watching for the lights of towns they passed, 
listening to the sound of the train's whistle echoing through the 
dark, the eerie tolling of the bell at each railroad crossing. 

Another ambulance was waiting when they arrived in Baton 
Rouge, and they left the compartments, presumably to be thor¬ 
oughly fumigated by the health department. Victor rode the 
twenty-five miles to Carville with his patient and was given a tour 
of the hospital and its ample grounds. "All so posh," he com¬ 
mented later, "compared with the conditions we work with in 
India." 

Yet it was designed for isolation. Surrounded by marshland and 
jungle, a river whose boats never stopped, no approach except by 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


105 


rutted tracks that could hardly be called a road, and a high hur¬ 
ricane fence topped by barbed wire, it was a veritable prison. Were 
he a sufferer of Hansen's disease, Victor thought he would have 
preferred India, where at least there was no barbed wire and one 
could feel that he was still part of the human race. 

That same year, just before the family's departure from furlough, 
there came a tremendous "wondhap." Harry Tiedeck heard of the 
closing of the Philadelphia Women's Homeopathic Hospital. Much 
of its equipment would be sold at auction. Harry took the commit¬ 
tee's thousand dollars to the auction and started bidding. Others of 
the purchasers, knowing why he was there, would stop bidding 
when he entered the competition on a certain lot, and he was able 
to secure an incredible amount of secondhand supplies at remark¬ 
ably low cost, perhaps thirty-five thousand dollars worth had it 
been new. Most of it was general and surgical equipment: beds, 
operating tables (three of them), lights, and orthopedic appliances. 
Without knowing it, he purchased also four hundred pounds of 
sand, part of the orthopedic equipment, certainly a doubtful 
necessity in a land like India, where in the dry seasons even the 
most torrential rivers became dry sand beds. The whole collection, 
including sandbags, was listed, packed, and dispatched to India by 
a reputable British shipping firm. 

"I could hardly believe it, Victor!" Harry said joyously, coming to 
the ship in June to see the family off for England. "You should have 
seen how the others stopped bidding just as soon as they saw my 
hand go up." 

"Wonderful, yes." Victor smiled a bit wryly. "But are you sure it 
doesn't come under the definition of, say, a bit of skullduggery?" 

They stopped in Edinburgh, this time the whole family, for 
Victor to enjoy another three months of study. They ate at the same 
table at which in 1847 Sir James Simpson, having used chloroform 
on himself while experimenting with its substitution for ether in 
midwifery, collapsed and passed out temporarily while he was 
dining. Victor studied under giants in ophthalmology (Doctors 
Trauquaire and Simpson) and general surgery (Fraser, Wilkie, and 
Wade). 

Encouraged by his professors, Victor took the examinations for 
the Royal College of Surgeons, but he failed to pass. The examina¬ 
tions required were in general surgery as well as ophthalmology. 
"Rambo, you're not giving us enough time," Professor Fraser told 
him. "Stay and try again." That was impossible. He had already 
extended his furlough to the limit, and there was now no doctor in 
Mungeli. The opportunity would not come again. But a quarter of a 
century later, in 1957, he received a letter in India notifying him of 



106 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


his acceptance as a member in the Royal College of Surgeons with 
no fee charged and no examination required. Satisfaction? Yes. 
Another "wondhap"? No. By that time it would be merely a natu¬ 
ral tribute to a career far excelling in its quality and extent that of 
many who had passed the examinations with flying colors. 



6 


L ife is full of paradoxes. For a year the Rambos had been living in 
.J a land of abundance plunged suddenly into a great depres¬ 
sion. Now in 1932 they were back in a land of depression that 
seemed for them blessed with abundance. 

First there was a new hospital building. It had been started 
before they left on furlough, a memorial gift from the Teachout 
family in America and allotted to Mungeli by the mission board 
because of the tremendous growth in its medical work under 
Victor's leadership. Situated behind the old hospital and con¬ 
nected with it by a covered ramp, it was a substantial building of 
concrete with tiled roof, screened windows, wide, pillared 
porches, and space inside for a large and a small operating room, 
scrub and linen chambers, a delivery room, and an examining 
section for eye patients. The old building had been remodeled and 
enlarged to contain the outpatient department, lab, and record 
room. There would be no more devising makeshift ceilings to keep 
dust from drifting down from the baked mud tiles or draping 
windows with gauze to keep insects or even an occasional bird 
from skimming over one's head! 

There was also a trained nurse, Mrs. George E. Springer, widow 
of a successful American businessman. She had come to India as a 
missionary evangelist; then, seeing the great physical needs, she 
had gone home, taken two years of nurse's training at the Christian 
Hospital in Kansas City, and been assigned to Mungeli. But her 
skills were not wholly in nursing. Her husband had been a builder, 
and working with him she had acquired both knowledge and 
expertise in construction. 

"We need more wards for patients," she said to Victor soon after 
the Teachout Memorial Block was dedicated. "I would like to build 
a cottage ward in memory of my husband." 

She started the work immediately: hiring masons; purchasing 
lumber, tiles, and cement; getting sand transported from the 

107 


108 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


riverbed in the dry season for mixing the cement; and supervising 
the work with an eagle eye which, to the workmens' dismay, 
brooked no deviation from plumb or skimping of materials or, 
worse yet, extra minutes of siesta. 

"She'd rather build than nurse," observed Victor jokingly to 
Hira Lai. Yet such was her vigor and gracious skill in directing and 
delegating duties that the nursing service was never neglected. 
She was like a busy angel whose holy activity must at times be 
accompanied by much flapping of wings and upsetting currents of 
air. The buildings she created certainly made history for Mungeli. 

The year 1932 also had its paradoxes — death in the midst of life, 
new life emerging in the wake of death. On the last day of January, 
Eagle Rambo attended services as usual in the First Christian 
Church of Portland. His strength had declined after the Near East 
experience so that he had never taken another pastorate, but he 
had recently felt unusually well. That night he retired at the usual 
time, but before midnight he had quietly slipped away. One day 
after the cable arrived, six-year-old Birch saw his father standing 
on the verandah, staring down at the ground for what seemed an 
interminable time. Something in the intensity of his quietness 
forbade even a curious child's interruption. Presently he went into 
the house and Birch heard him tell Louise that he had received a 
letter telling of his father's death. Although the news was 
heartbreaking, after that one time of long silence Victor scarcely 
mentioned the loss. He and his family were not the only ones who 
grieved in India. Dozens of the orphans to whom Eagle was 
"Papa-ji" mourned the passing of the beloved father. 

But the year brought new life as well, for William Milton Rambo, 
named for both his grandfathers, arrived in November. This time 
Louise did not need to go to Bilaspur for the confinement. The new 
hospital was fully able to provide all necessary facilities. 

"William Milton is doing well," Victor wrote Kate in February 
1933. "He grows regularly and coos and grimaces and opens his 
mouth and tries all sorts of funny stunts which send us all and 
especially Birch into shrieks of laughter." 

The same letter and others in following weeks revealed some of 
his own activities. "Today I did an operation on a horse's eye. It had 
a filaria in it, a worm about two inches long. I made an incision but 
the filaria did not come out. The horse jerked his head and tossed 
about. He was well bound down, however, and a longer incision 
bringing up a sort of flap caused the worm to partly come out, and 
there was no difficulty in getting the rest." 

"Yesterday I went out to the leprosy hospital and on to the 
Takhatpur village bazaar. Can't you picture all of the villagers in for 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


109 


market? The vegetable sellers sitting on the ground, tiny tomatoes, 
egg plant, rice, dal, onions, garlic, cloth for saris and dhotis, 
bamboo baskets, and, a thing you did not see in the old days, 
lorries going past packed with all sorts of people. The motor 
honked and honked and with difficulty maneuvered through the 
masses of people coming to the bazaar from hundreds of villages 
on thousands of errands. All kinds turn up for medicine, and we 
call many of them to the hospital/' 

"Today I did two cataracts and took a tumor off a man's forehead. 
I believe it will return. He has elephantiasis. We seldom have a 
patient here with only one disease. The thing that keeps us all busy 
is to keep from getting some of these diseases ourselves, and we do 
not always succeed. Malaria is the worst offender." 

"We have fifteen pigeons, three guinea pigs, one white rat, and a 
horse. They are all well. I would like a dog for the children, 
but when I saw a number of small children that had been bitten 
by a little mad pup being given injections, I knew it wasn't worth 
it." 

For months after his return, Victor was the only qualified doctor 
in the station. Hopefully, impatiently, he waited for the return of 
the two students he had sent to Miraj. In the meantime he and Hira 
Lai and their helpers managed an incredible workload. In the first 
year they treated in outlying dispensaries nearly 17,000 patients, in 
Mungeli alone 549 inpatients, and Victor performed 737 opera¬ 
tions, mostly in eyes. A Ford provided by his American friends 
made possible far more visits to villages and the leprosy hospital 
home. There was the prospect of an electric system that would 
make possible lights, fans, and refrigeration if running expenses 
could be guaranteed. There was the hurdle. The depression in 
America was sadly curtailing mission funds. Budgets, inadequate 
to begin with, had been cut by a third. 

"We are so short of funds," Victor wrote his mother, "that we 
have to get every bit of money out of everybody that comes, and 
that adds a lot of strain. I have no secretary. We lost our driver 
because we could not pay him what he wanted." 

But he wrote few words of complaint. Work dominated letters as 
well as days. 

"Man stuck a needle used for sewing into the wall of his mud hut 
for safe keeping. His young wife was plastering the wall with her 
hand. Two inches of the 'eye' portion entered her hand and broke 
off. It took half an hour of my tennis time in the evening to find the 
needle. Would that an X-ray had been handy!" 

"A woman had a beard of rice stuck in her eyes. A coucher in the 
market burned her forehead and temple the same way he does for 



110 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


glaucoma, burning a half inch circle almost to the bone. She re¬ 
fused to have the eye removed." 

Such lack of patients' cooperation resulted in occasional failure, 
as with a woman on whom Victor performed a conservative, suc¬ 
cessful, uncomplicated operation for one of her two cataracts. 
Family members caring for her disregarded orders. She opened the 
bandages the first day. The second day she insisted on getting up 
and walking about. Because of this straining, a bit of iris appeared 
in the wound the third day. She should have had not only ward 
nursing but also a special nurse. None was available. She sat up, 
laughing and conversing, and refused to stay in bed. The iris came 
out farther. It was necessary to snip it off to prevent further pro¬ 
lapse. She refused to have it done. As the summer wore on, vision 
in the eye was lost. 

"You came to India to ruin my mother's eyes," accused her son 
hotly. 

A coucher arrived in her village and operated on the other eye, 
pushing the opaque lens aside with his unsanitary, blunt instru¬ 
ment. She was able to see immediately. Mounting his little plat¬ 
form in the village marketplace, the coucher displayed his success 
to the crowd. 

"See!" He pointed triumphantly. "That is the eye the modern 
doctor operated on. It is blind. The other eye I operated on with the 
sacred ancient method given us by the gods. She sees well with 
this eye." 

Victor rejoiced over her restored sight, only hoping that the 
usual infection resulting in blindness would not occur. Fortunately 
the case brought not one less patient to the hospital. 

There were satisfactions that compensated for all such disap¬ 
pointments. One morning after prayers there came to the hospital 
a woman of about forty, a good wife, mother, and farm worker until 
she had lost her sight with cataracts. With the blindness she had 
also lost her mind. For three years she had been completely dis¬ 
oriented, not knowing her own name, her family, her village, or 
the time of day. She would eat food only when it was put in her 
mouth. And here she was brought by her husband and all five of 
her children. He found that the cataracts were in good eyes and 
could be removed. But who would nurse her to be sure she would 
not dig her eyes out? 

"Go ahead," assured two of his nurses. "We will care for her." 

Under local anesthetic, with preparation for general if necessary, 
one cataract was removed. The eye looked so wonderful! A 
twenty-four hour vigil was begun by the already overworked 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


111 


nursing staff. The husband and older son were able to help, and in 
a week the bandage came off. By the end of that first day of sight 
the woman was oriented. She looked up and recognized members 
of her family, tears streaming from her eyes. She stayed to let Victor 
take out the second cataract, and at the end of another ten days the 
family walked back to their village with a mother completely re¬ 
stored, not only in vision but also in mind. And of course all had 
heard the story of Jesus, in whose name the restoring work had 
been done. What gladness there was in the world, thought Victor, 
what unspeakable joy! 

Despite all difficulties, the early years of the thirties were full of 
such "wondhaps." One was the arrival of the equipment Harry 
Tiedeck had purchased. Victor went to Bombay to meet the ship. 
When he was shown the list of supplies and saw to his amazement 
that included in the lot of orthopedic equipment were 400 pounds 
of sandbags, his blood pressure must have mounted several 
points. There they were, packed in tough bags in a thick-boarded 
box with iron bands, heavy as lead, strong enough to hold an army 
of wild cats. He went to the Bombay manager of the Scotch ship¬ 
ping firm. "Look here," he said, "sand is the last thing we need. 
Please, dump it somewhere here. Throw it in the ocean, anything. 
Only don't make us pay for bringing it across country, then hauling 
it over thirty miles in an ox cart!" 

The shipment arrived in Mungeli. And what should appear on 
the first ox cart but the box of sandbags. Operating tables, beds, 
lights, and orthopedic equipment came along, too, a thousand and 
more articles desperately needed, a godsend. And even the sand 
proved not a total liability. 

"Sand?" Mrs. Springer's eye sparkled. "From America?" She 
was overjoyed. "I shall mix it with Indian cement, and there will be 
some real American earth in my new ward." Sure enough, it 
became part of the porch floor in the house she was building. So for 
the next half century and more, countless Indian feet would be 
treading softly on a bit of American soil. 

Some years later, when she returned from furlough, Mrs. 
Springer came again to Victor. In her hand she held a small 
jeweler's box which, opened, revealed a ring set with a large, 
lustrous diamond. Its scintillating brilliance seemed to reflect the 
sparkle in her eyes. Victor blinked. "What—how—why, how 
beautiful!" 

"My engagement ring," she said simply. Then she told him a 
story. On her way out to India she had stopped in Hong Kong and 
taken a trip on a tourist boat around the harbor. A band of robbers 



112 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


had come on board, stripping the passengers of rings, watches, 
necklaces, and money. Somehow she had managed to hide her 
diamond ring in her shoe. 

"Victor," she said, "I want to make this ring significant. I don't 
want lawyers and other strangers haggling over my engagement 
ring when I am gone. I am going to sell it and use the money to 
build another ward. My husband would have liked his diamond 
used in this way, and it will certainly do more good than sparkling 
on these old fingers." 

So there would come into being the Springer Diamond Ward, a 
sturdy building of two rooms in which patients and their families 
could stay, with ample facilities for cooking and bathing and wide 
verandahs that additional patients in the busy season could be 
sheltered on. 

These two wards were not to be Mrs. Springer's only donations. 
Sitarabai, an orphan girl who grew up in the mission and spent her 
life as a much loved matron in mission boarding schools, directed 
in her will that her life's savings should be used for the benefit of 
women and children of Mungeli, but legal difficulties prevented 
the mission from receiving the money. Mrs. Springer once more 
came forward and devoted some of her savings to building the 
Sitara Memorial Ward, in which many of the girls Sitara had 
mothered, with their children, could receive care and treatment. 

During these years when Victor was the only doctor and waiting 
for the return of his two students, he was by no means marking 
time. His days and nights were full of the joy of healing and telling 
people of the love of Jesus. Once he was called to a family nine 
miles into the country from Mungeli. The note brought to him 
read, "Please come. Doctor Sahib, everybody is sick." But what a 
problem he had getting there! It was the rainy season. A small 
pony had been sent to bring him. His legs were so long that his feet 
dragged all the way on the rain-soaked ground. He was splashed 
to the waist by the deep puddles that could only be found in a land 
like India. Arriving in the little village home and finding the half- 
dozen members of the family arranged on string cots and mats, 
indeed sick, he made a fervent prayer. "Lord Jesus, heal the hearts 
and bowels of this family, all of them!" Then he set to work. Six 
hours later the cots and mats were all empty, as each person was 
sufficiently recovered to be up and about. It was a Christian family. 
Victor gathered them all around him to thank the Master Healer. 
Going home through the mud and water on the same little pony, 
he was so happy that his legs seemed to be flying, not dragging. 

Mud, rain, drought, heat. They followed one another, swiftly, 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


113 


each season as full of activity as the days it contained. One such 
day was typical. Because it was the beginning of the hot season, 
Victor was sleeping out under the gul mohr tree beside the bun¬ 
galow. About three in the morning, he was wakened by a voice 
somewhere near his bed. 

"Sahib-ji! Doctor Sahib-ji!" 

"Yes?" 

"My brother is very sick. It seems like the cholera." 

Victor dragged himself up from sleep. "Er—yes. Wait, then. I'm 
coming." 

It took only a few minutes to pull on his clothes and shoes, call a 
pharmacist from the hospital, and, with medicine and instru¬ 
ments, follow Milan Das to his village home about a furlong away. 
Both Milan Das and his brother Madan were Christians, but they 
were spiritually lukewarm, almost cold, and Victor welcomed this 
opportunity to show his concern. Madan did show symptoms of 
cholera, but after a little treatment they subsided; and because 
there was no epidemic in the district, Victor concluded that his 
sickness was not that dreaded scourge. Leaving instructions to call 
him if there was further need, he returned home and to bed. 

At 5 A.M. he was wakened again, this time by the rising sun, the 
raucous calls of crows, and the crash and clatter of the water 
carriers at the garden well. The day had begun. The nights were 
still cool enough for comfortable sleep, but there was the promise 
of mounting heat. He was glad Louise had gone with the children 
to Kodai. 

As he was bathing, the hospital watchman came to report that 
the patient in number six bed was about to be taken home by his 
family. That can't be allowed to happen! he thought. It was a three- 
year-old child with a fractured hip who was doing well, but dis¬ 
charge too early might well condemn him to the life of a cripple. 
Giving a final whisk of the towel and a tug to his collar, he rushed 
off to the hospital. After twenty minutes of persuasion, argument, 
and warning, the family agreed to let the child stay at least another 
week. India perhaps was spared another cripple. 

Victor returned to the bungalow for breakfast, morning prayers 
in Hindi with servants and other compound workers, and then a 
precious half hour at his desk—or nearly that before a student 
compounder came to report the patients were already waiting at 
the dispensary. With a last hopeless look at the pile of letters to be 
answered, Victor followed him. 

He began the day's work as usual with a short service in which 
all hospital workers joined, as well as the dispensary patients and 



114 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


ambulatory cases among the inpatients. A Hindi hymn was played 
on the phonograph, another sung, and then Hira Lai read a simple 
gospel story and interpreted it in terms of village life, so much like 
that in ancient Palestine. Today he told them how Yesu, Doctor of 
doctors, healed blind Bartimaeus. 

Now for the long line of waiting patients. First came a woman 
who had had cataracts for six or seven years. A powerful electric 
torch, flashed close to the eyes, elicited no response. It was a 
heartbreaking task to explain to the woman and her young brother 
that nothing could be done. 

"Something, Doctor-ji!" The boy dropped to the floor, clasping 
Victor's knees. "Please, do something!" 

He did, the only thing possible. He told them of Yesu, the Light 
of the world, who could give the blind seeing eyes of the spirit; but 
the boy only stared at him with eyes almost as unseeing as his 
sister's. Victor watched them go slowly away down the road, 
knowing that he would never see them again. In later years he 
would learn to give mobility training by the proper use of a cane. 

Two men with cataracts who still had light perception came. He 
told them to sit down at one side until he was ready to operate. 
Also waiting was a woman with entropion, eyelids so indrawn that 
the lashes constantly irritated the eyes; if allowed to continue, the 
irritation would cause nearly unbearable pain and perhaps blind¬ 
ness. 

Next came a child with healed burns, her face, hands, and knees 
a mass of scar tissue, hands and fingers so doubled back on the 
arms and bound by the scars that they were useless. Fortunately 
the eyes had been saved, although the scars had drawn down the 
lower lids. She had been left alone in the house, explained the 
father and grandmother, "just for a little time, Sahib-ji," while the 
mother went to draw water and the rest of the family was working 
in the fields. She had fallen in the fire. 

"If you will stay in the hospital," Victor said, "I will try to free the 
hands and bring the eyelids to their proper place." The father, he 
noticed, was suffering from severe trachoma, and they could help 
him, too. 

The long line continued: a patient with chronic dysentery, who 
must remain for treatment; several with ulcers, who needed in¬ 
travenous injections; a woman with a large sebacious cyst of the 
neck. He learned that her name was Glumli, her husband Cherku. 
They had a son, Khorbharewa, in his teens. They were thrifty 
farming people from Takhatpur. Victor assured them he could 
remove the cyst, and they also remained for surgery. Several cases 
of acute conjunctivitis were sent to the partially trained Indian 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


115 


nurse for treatment, and prescriptions for others with minor ail¬ 
ments were taken to the pharmacists. 

By this time Mrs. Springer had the operating room ready, so 
Victor began his surgery. Present in the small room were Dr. Hira 
Lai, Mrs. Springer, two pharmacists, two relatives of the patient, 
two prosperous Indians from the town who were eager to see an 
operation, Victor himself, the patient, and two small operating 
tables. One of the men with cataract was helped to the table, his 
right eye anesthetized. As Victor turned to the patient after pray¬ 
ing, knife in hand, he paused, startled. When he had examined the 
man an hour before, both eyes had had cataracts. Now the left eye 
was clear. 

"Can you see?" he demanded. "Do you see my hand before your 
face?" 

Yes, he could see, with that left eye. Then where was that 
cataract that had been there just an hour ago? An Indian vaid 
(coucher), the patient told him, had operated on that eye, and now 
he could see when lying down. That explained it. Telling him to sit 
up, Victor could see the displaced lens, opaque with cataract, 
swing down and cover the pupil, and the man was once more 
blind. When he lay down the lens swung back to the top of the eye, 
and he could see. 

"You're fortunate, brother," Victor commented grimly. Usually 
the late result of the coucher's work was hopeless blindness. Al¬ 
though it would be delicate, uncertain work, he still could remove 
that displaced, swinging lens. He proceeded to operate on the 
man's right eye, and the cataract slipped out almost immediately. 

Patient followed patient on the table. One cataract was stubborn 
but finally yielded, and Victor rejoiced in the skill that had brought 
absolutely no vitreous to the wound. The woman with entropion 
was nervous but glad to get the irritating lashes outside and not 
scratching her eyeballs. The sebacious cyst was removed, and 
Glumli was given a small room so that her husband and son could 
stay with her and cook her food. The child with the terrible burns 
must wait until tomorrow, when Victor hoped he would have more 
time. 

It was past noon when he finished, and, as expected, the ther¬ 
mometer registered well above a hundred. Victor went home for 
lunch and a short rest—very short, for at 2:30 there was a rush call. 
A baby with opium poisoning was brought to the hospital. As he 
worked over it, Victor got the story from the distraught father. The 
child had been left within reach of three annas worth of opium, a 
piece about as big as the end of an adult's little finger. The mother 
was asleep, and the baby had eaten all of it. They had been in the 



116 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


habit of giving it small quantities of the drug from time to time, as 
was the custom among some middle and lower class Hindus in the 
area. 

While Victor kept working over the baby, he talked to the father 
about the evils of opium and its effect on children, whom the 
Master Yesu loved so much. Mrs. Springer brought coffee from the 
supply that was carefully hoarded for special occasions but given 
gladly for such an emergency. It proved a good stimulant, and the 
baby's condition improved. The father promised with tearful ear¬ 
nestness that never again would any opium be used in his home. 
Victor hoped that a night in the hospital would restore the baby to 
health. 

That afternoon he paid visits to the homes of two well-to-do 
Indians in Mungeli town across the river who had shown a casual 
interest in the Christian way. He took part in the semiweekly 
neosalvarsan clinic for sufferers of yaws at the hospital. 

He had no time for his cambric tea, but he did squeeze in a brief 
bout of tennis before a later dinner. His bed was again under the 
glorious gul mohr, its canopy of red and gold blossoms forming a 
huge parasol above his head, the temperature down again into the 
nineties, making it cool enough to sleep. But he did not sleep for 
long. During the night he paid several visits to the opium- 
poisoned baby in the hospital. Once or twice its pulse failed, and 
the nurse on duty kept calling him. But by morning he was certain 
the child was going to live. His day was ended, another one begun. 

Victor's growing fame as a remover of cataracts and doctor of 
other eye ailments sometimes involved him in strange situations. 
One morning he and Hira Lai were conducting their clinic out of 
doors in the sun, for it was the cold season. Of course the hospital 
had no heat. Often there would be little particles of ice in the pie 
plates filled with water that they set out to see if the temperature 
had gone down to freezing during the night. Seated in the com¬ 
pound with backs to the mounting sun, the clinic table in front 
bearing the records of patients, stethoscopes, sphygmomanome¬ 
ter, and other tools, they would begin the diagnoses and treat¬ 
ment. Victor begrudged himself his warmly shod feet and the 
layers of sweater and jacket that he wore while patients came with 
bare or sandaled feet, a thin cotton dhoti or sari and perhaps a 
shawl thrown about the shoulders. But as the sun's heat increased 
he would remove one layer after another and don a topee to shade 
his eyes. 

The main road to Bilaspur ran just behind them, its sounds of 
clopping hoofs, rumbling carts, bicycle bells, and shrill cries of 
prodding drivers forming a dull, steady undertone to the conversa- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


117 


tion between doctors and patients. So accustomed was he to the 
passing crowds that Victor paid no more attention to them than to 
the flies that even in this cold season, once the sun brought 
warmth, buzzed about. Then as there came a less familiar sound he 
turned curiously to Hira Lai. Ding dong , then a little space, ding 
dong. 

"An elephant," observed Hira Lai. 

The sounds of the bell kept repeating, each time with a little 
space between, every beat of the clapper marking the descent of a 
ponderous foot. Elephants seldom appeared on the road, so they 
lifted their heads to watch it pass. It didn't. In through the gate it 
came, and the next Victor knew, there was the towering shape with 
its trunk almost over the table. One sweep of the long proboscis 
and stethoscope, records, and medicines would have gone flying. 
Hastily Victor pushed them to one side, out of danger. As the 
mahout slipped from his perch, Victor rose to his feet. Knowing that 
patients might arrive via any sort of conveyance from charpoi to cart 
or donkey, even to camel, he accepted the status of the newcomer 
as patient without question. 

"Namaste , brother, " he greeted the mahout. "Give us your name, 
and tell us what is your trouble." 

"Nahin , no. Doctor Sahib." The mahout made vigorous dissent. 
"Not I. Look at my elephant. She is sick. Ai-oh, see her eye!" 

Leaning back and looking up, Victor noted that sure enough, 
one of the eyes was closed, pus oozing from it. The mahout burst 
into an explanation with excited gestures. It had happened in the 
forest when the elephant had reached up to grab some branches 
and leaves to feed on. She must have scratched it on a branch, and 
it had got worse and worse. He knew that the Sahib was a doctor 
who could treat eyes, and so he had come. 

Victor nodded. He was a doctor who treated eyes, and the 
elephant obviously needed attention. It was not the "eye-fly" 
season, but there were always children with inflamed eyes, and 
potassium permanganate solution was in readiness. He ordered it 
for the elephant. Rather than use a hard syringe, he directed that a 
soft ear syringe be boiled and filled with the medication. But who 
would apply the remedy? Victor had no inclination to perform the 
act; nor did Hira Lai or the pharmacists. 

"I will do it," offered the mahout. Thereupon he grasped the 
trunk and, reaching up high on a level with the elephant's eye, 
gave the bulb a good squeeze. Valiantly he held on while the trunk 
thrashed up and down, back and forth, some times lifting him off 
his feet. He irrigated the eye clean, then wiped it with the sterile 
cotton Victor handed him. 



118 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


"Bring her back this afternoon," Victor told him. 

" Meherbani /" The mahout was fervently grateful. 

Victor took one of the patient registration cards and under the 
word Name wrote "Elephant." 

Ding dong, ding dong. That afternoon when the patient entered 
the gate, she was followed by a train of curious, skipping children, 
among them the two young Rambos, excited over the unusual 
sight of an elephant in the role of hospital patient. The process of 
irrigation was repeated with far less fuss. 

"What is her name?" Victor asked the mahout. 

"Sundari," was the proud answer. So on her card Victor replaced 
"Elephant" with the name "Sundari," which means "Beautiful," 
and recorded her age as eighteen. 

She came again the next day and the next, taking her treatment 
each time more quietly, and the eye steadily improved. The fourth 
day it looked completely clean, and the scrape on the top of the 
cornea had healed with a little gray string of opacity that Victor 
assured the mahout would become much better. He never saw 
Beautiful again, but he would remember her with affection as one 
of his most interesting and successful cases in ophthalmology. 

Clinics were not always held at the hospital. As Victor and his 
helpers went on calls into the villages, they found unnumbered 
victims of disease who could not be persuaded to come to the 
hospital. One of the most prevalent diseases was yaws, charac¬ 
terized by the eruption of disfiguring skin lesions looking some¬ 
thing like raspberries. Closely related to the spirochete causing 
yaws was the one producing syphilis, one of the most destructive 
scourges of the Indian countryside. Everywhere they went they 
saw its indications, the ulcerated lips, enlargement of lymphatic 
glands, and other symptoms, It was found that the neosalvarsan 
was effective in attacking the treponema spirochete, germ of 
syphilis, as well as the the spirochete causing yaws, and injections 
were given to patients coming to the hospital. Then Victor had an 
idea. 

"We're reaching only a tiny fraction of such persons," he had 
said to Hira Lai early in his first term of service. "Why not take the 
remedy to them instead of waiting for them to come to us?" 

So outclinics had been started. A worker would be sent into a 
group of villages, and he would gather together all persons who 
had signs of these diseases. Then a team of doctor or pharmacist 
and a helper would go out into the villages and give injections. 
They took syringes, trays in which to boil water, and tincture of 
iodine or Mercurochrome to cleanse the skin. Often just one injec- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


119 


tion would have the happy effect of making the ulceration and 
overgrowth of certain cells disappear. 

Usually then the patient would feel himself "cured/' but of 
course that was not the case. More treatment was needed. "Why 
take more treatment when the lesion had disappeared?" would be 
the usual response. Such misunderstanding made it difficult to 
follow up with the necessary curative measures. Later the Kahn 
test was introduced and complete cure was assured. 

Sometimes such sallies into the villages could be combined with 
desirable relaxation, hunting trips into the forest areas where wild 
game was abundant. At first they would merely take along in¬ 
jections into these "camps"; then came the idea of taking medica¬ 
tions for other ailments such as malaria. So the sui (needle) was 
instrumental in opening up many outlying areas to medical ser¬ 
vices. 

These outclinics for yaws and syphilis soon became a source of 
much-needed income for the hospital, for sufferers were glad to 
pay a few rupees for their treatment, enough to cover the cost of a 
bullock cart or hiring bicycles for the trip. Because much hospital 
work was done gratis for the patients, this additional income made 
possible many services that the stipend from the mission board 
was unable to supply. Presently not only were Victor, and Hira Lai, 
and the trained pharmacists conducting such clinics, but also some 
middle- and high-school graduates picked up the technique of 
giving injections; although the students were not registered, the 
practice was permitted by the government because of the tremen¬ 
dous need. 

Unfortunately the practice became as much a racket as couching 
and was much less easily controlled by government. Fatalism 
concerning death was so prevalent that if a person died from 
harmful medication it was considered his appointed lot, but a 
patient who lost his eye from couching was still living and could 
report the operation to the government, whose officials could track 
down the offender. Some of the fake practitioners prospered ex¬ 
cessively, charging high prices for injections, their opaque syringes 
often filled with nothing but water. Yet in spite of such abuses the 
benefits of the outclinics were incalculable. 

One of the distressing symptoms of the rainy season in June and 
July was repeated attacks among village children of conjunctivitis. 
Gnats and flies proliferated. Trachoma made the conjunctivitis 
worse until every cubic millimeter of the conjunctiva was inflamed. 
School studies became impossible. 

Then Victor tried an experiment in the surrounding mission 



120 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


schools. Zinc boric drops were instilled in every eye in the schools 
before conjunctivitis developed except in a few of the children or a 
teacher. Almost none of the children developed the infection. Then 
for a month or two twice a week a solution of a quarter percent zinc 
sulfate and a half percent boric acid with distilled or boiled water 
was given by the teachers, and at least this curse of the "eye fly 
season," with its painful inflammation and pus discharge, was 
almost eradicated. Another threat to vision was conquered, praise 
the Lord! If only the remedy could be applied to all the suffering 
children in India's half million villages. 

Unlike most of his mission associates, Victor worked indefatiga- 
bly to arouse government action in improving public health. Espe¬ 
cially were his efforts directed through the British civil service 
against couching. He made numerous trips to Nagpur, the provin¬ 
cial center, to urge passage of a law prohibiting the practice, and 
the whole household, including the children, shared his joy when 
he was finally notified that couching had been made a criminal 
offense in Central Provinces. 

Also in those years of the early thirties, when few people, cer¬ 
tainly not those connected with the church, considered population 
control to be necessary, Victor became so concerned about the 
problem that with his own money he hired a couple to explain 
ways of family planning in Mungeli and surrounding villages. This 
compounder and his capable wife would go from a center, first by 
ox cart, then by cycle with the woman sitting on the luggage carrier, 
out into the villages giving demonstrations of methods of family 
planning. At a time when sex education was taboo for Indians as 
well as his own associates, Victor was supplying this couple, 
Ahsan Ali and his wife, with charts and other materials giving 
education in birth control. 

It was his Rambo Committee that made most of such innovations 
possible, for it was constantly functioning, keeping both money 
and necessary supplies coming. Most welcome and valuable were 
donations of glasses. After his study with Dr. Macphail, Victor had 
tried to provide each of his cataract patients as well as many others 
with the necessary lenses. An appeal had gone out through the 
committee, and Victor had told of the need on his speaking tours. 
"Send us your old glasses, lenses, frames. We can use them all." At 
first individuals sent them straight to the field. Then the customs 
people decided that here was valuable merchandise coming in, 
often with frames of gold, and they began charging duties. So the 
shipments were made more cheaply through Harry Tiedeck's 
office. 

It was amazing how often a pair of those used glasses could 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


121 


be found to fit a patient's need, not only for those with cata¬ 
racts but also for the whole gamut of optical conditions 
— nearsightedness and farsightedness, astigmatism, and other 
compound deficiencies that weaken and destroy vision. Often a 
pair could be found with not only lenses that fit the eyes but also a 
frame well adjusted to the face. Victor had learned to give refrac¬ 
tions from Dr. Edmund Tait, and it was always possible to get 
prescriptions filled in one of the larger cities. But without the 
contributions of used glasses, the poorer patients could have been 
given far less perfect frames. 

It was the money the committee provided for the education of 
his two medical students at Miraj that promised the greatest 
benefit, however. At the end of their five years of training in 1933, 
Victor awaited their return with both anticipation and impatience. 
They had done well — almost too well, he discovered to his con¬ 
sternation. Prabhu Dayal Sukhnandan had performed so out¬ 
standingly in surgery that Dr. Vail wanted to keep him on the Miraj 
staff. 

"Please, please send him to us," Victor wrote in a letter that might 
well have been more demanding than pleading. His funds had 
paid for the young man's education, and it had been understood 
that he was to come to Mungeli. But refusal of the Miraj position 
would mean sacrifice, and Victor did not want to impose a deci¬ 
sion. Prabhu Dayal (the name meant "dear kindly lord") came of 
his own volition to Mungeli, with his classmate Philip James. 

These were by no means the only students Victor was to fi¬ 
nance through the Rambo Committee. In coming years others 
would be sent to study medicine, some for male nursing, some 
for compounding, and some later for the laboratory techni¬ 
cian's or X-ray or optician's courses; and when their training was 
completed, most of them would come to Mungeli or go to other 
of the Mission's stations to serve and become part of the Chris¬ 
tian community. It was done largely without the support or coope¬ 
ration of the mission board. Indeed, most of its officials continued 
to view such training of Indians with active disapproval. Only 
after thirty years, when Victor and his associates had trained fif¬ 
teen young Indian doctors, would the board recognize the value 
of the achievement. 

"The medical program of our mission hospitals," Donald 
McGavran was to write in I960, "would have folded up years ago 
except as missionary doctors became fewer, Indian doctors, Vic¬ 
tor's trainees, were available. Of course not all of them worked out. 
Some refused to work for small salaries and took government jobs. 
But a good core remained. And how glad the mission is now that 



122 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Victor had that fund from Philadelphia and refused to be deterred 
by his fellow missionaries!" 

The two doctors were all Victor had hoped for. Philip James 
arrived first. Son of the small boy whom Hira Lai had found long 
ago beside his sick father on the road and who had become Pastor 
Jaita, he was a finely trained general physician and diagnostician 
who with his wife, Shanti, soon played a prominent part in the 
church and community life of Mungeli. In time he was to head the 
diagnostic department of the hospital at which laboratory techni¬ 
cians were trained. He took over the treatments at the leprosy 
home and was active in promoting community health. He also 
became financial administrator, and under his management there 
was never a deficit. Such personal interest and concern did he 
show for the patients that each one, if possible, would give every 
paisa asked for a contribution. Although the charges were small or, 
if necessary, nil, there was soon such a huge amount of surgery 
that the petty annas, paisa, and cowries were enough to cover ex¬ 
penses. That income could not cover staff salaries, however, which 
were paid by the mission board, and it was these that suffered 
during the depression cuts. "Who knows," Victor wrote his 
mother, "when the workers will be called home because of lack of 
funds!" 

Prabhu Dayal Sukhnandan, oldest son of Sukhnandan, a ref¬ 
ugee who had come to the mission with his deaf mute brother, 
Kulandan, in the first famine, had become a skilled surgeon. No 
wonder, Victor decided, that Doctors Vail and Wanless had wanted 
to keep him at Miraj. With surprise and delight Victor watched him 
in action, marveling at his precision and accuracy yet swiftness of 
motion. Not only had he been thoroughly grounded in technique, 
but he also had the knack. He "knew his point." He held his hand 
in exactly the right position, like an artist, extensor and flexor 
balanced close to the body. Dayal had been bom and had grown up 
on a farm, his family struggling against poverty. "Yet out of that 
little home," Victor was to say years later, "came one of the most 
gifted and successful surgeons produced by the church in India." 

Later also, the result of that same mission teaching and emphasis 
on education, would come Raj, Dayal's son, who after years of 
American and Canadian training would earn the Fellowship of the 
American College of Surgeons and also of the Royal College 
of Surgeons, Canada, returning to India to become head of the 
Philadelphia Hospital of Ambala City, Haryana. Such were 
the widening circles generated by one simple act of Christian 
caring. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


123 


As time went on, Victor was increasingly impressed with young 
Dayal's surgical skill. His diagnoses for this or that operation were 
also consistently excellent. In each case, as when he did a perfect 
amputation of a lower leg in ten minutes, Victor knew that the 
operation was performed as accurately as it was swiftly. The skill of 
Dr. Vail, his mentor and one of the great mission surgeons, had 
entered into his very bones and sinews. 

They worked well together, or, rather, in conjunction. One day 
Victor was in the midst of operating on eighteen cataracts in the big 
operating room when Dayal called him to examine a case of abdom¬ 
inal pregnancy that had come in at full term. Victor "unscrubbed" 
and went to the other operating room. The baby was, as he de¬ 
scribed it, "all over the place." He could feel its toes and fingers 
through the abdominal muscles, which were stretched by previous 
pregnancies. The patient, already the mother of four, had com¬ 
plained that this was the "kickingest one" she had ever had. Of 
course it had to be taken out, but what a job. Where would the 
placenta be fastened? Victor returned gratefully to his cataracts, 
glad to leave the problem to his colleague. After completing his 
eighteen extractions, he returned to find the baby expertly deliv¬ 
ered and displaying the roundest head he had ever seen in a 
newborn baby. It was no wonder: the head had not even ap¬ 
proached the birth canal. Both mother and child were doing well. 
All the cataract patients had relatives to care for them. It was a good 
day's work. Victor and Dayal even had time for a bit of tennis. 

Dayal was unmarried, a situation that could not fail to arouse 
both concern and conniving among his fellow workers. There 
seemed to be no likely candidate among the Christians in the 
Mungeli neighborhood, at least none to Dayal's liking. Victor made 
occasional trips to examine the eyes of the teachers and pupils in 
the Johnson Girls' High School in Jabalpur, several hundred miles 
away by train, and on one visit he noted the wifely potential of 
some of the gifted and attractive members of the staff. "Wouldn't it 
be a good idea to examine also the ears, noses, and throats of every 
teacher and student?" Victor asked the principal. "I could bring 
along my assistant next time to facilitate the process." 

"Why, yes," she agreed, "that's an excellent idea." 

So the next time Victor went to the school, Prabhu Dayal 
Sukhnandan went with him; and while Victor examined eyes, 
Dayal had a look at hundreds of ears, noses, and throats—also at a 
goodly array of female intellect and pulchritude. The ploy was 
highly successful. Presently a marriage was arranged between 
Dayal and Lily James, one of the most attractive and best- 



124 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


educated young teachers on the Johnson staff. It was a union with 
the fairytale ending of "happily ever after," including the raising of 
five fine children. Victor was highly satisfied with his innocent 
little game of matchmaking. 

Of course his surgical work in Mungeli involved far more than 
eyes, although they had become his chief concern and specialty. 
He and Dayal shared in the general surgery. One such operation 
brought a threat to Victor's own eyesight. He was operating on a 
small boy. A kidney or bladder stone had descended through the 
urethra and had lodged at the penile outlet, backing up the boy's 
distended bladder above the umbilicus and making him howl and 
cringe in unbearable pain. The stone was fixed in the meatus of his 
penile urethra. Victor failed to pull it out with forceps. To incise was 
dangerous to the structure of the organ. Tearing the meatus might 
give the boy a deformity. Local anesthesia was given. Victor 
reached in repeatedly with straight forceps in an attempt to crush 
and remove the impacted obstruction, making the stone smaller bit 
by bit; for the pressure of the over-full bladder had to be released 
very slowly. As he did so, little bits of the stone would fly out like 
bullets. Finally, without injury to the urethral opening, he suc¬ 
ceeded in complete removal, bringing tremendous relief. And 
there, to his great delight, was the boy lying on the table, fast 
asleep. 

Victor finished the surgery in the late afternoon. At eleven that 
night he awoke with pain in his left eye. Hastening to the hospital, 
he called his compounder, Bennett. 

"It's a piece of calcium," Bennett told him with concern, "em¬ 
bedded in the cornea near the center of vision." 

How could it have happened? He had worn his glasses, which 
should have protected his eyes; but as the calcium projectile from 
the meatal stone piece flew, he must have had his eyes directed 
upward. Yet, the cornea being mostly insensitive, he had felt no 
pain until five or six hours later. The bit had landed enough off 
center in the cornea that it had not affected his sight. 

Mrs. Springer came, and she and Bennett tried to remove the 
particle without success. Victor drove the more than thirty miles to 
Bilaspur. At the mission hospital Dr. Hope Nichoson was also 
unsuccessful. At the government hospital Dr. Shehani, the civil 
surgeon whom Victor had known in Edinburgh when they had 
been fellow students, succeeded in digging out the bit of calcium. 

Victor asked for typhoid vaccine to be given him intravenously to 
stimulate the healing of the injured cornea more quickly and over¬ 
come possible infection. The dose resulted, as desired, in chills and 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


125 


high fever, and the eye was healed and normal the next day. It was 
a narrow escape from one-eyed blindness that would have cut field 
of vision and depth of perception, an exceedingly important fa¬ 
culty for an eye surgeon. Such a loss would have interrupted his 
surgical career and might well have ended it altogether. 



7 


I t was Prabhu Dayal Sukhnandan who suggested that friends of 
his at Miraj, the Choudharies, be invited to join the Mungeli 
staff. Both Suman and his wife, Daya, were nurses, trained at 
Miraj. They came in November 1934, when their first child, Victor, 
was just a month old. Son of a pastor in the Swedish mission 
church, Suman proved to be not only a devoted Christian but also 
an able administrator. He soon took over the duties of nursing 
superintendent from Mrs. Springer. Later both he and Daya would 
go to Philadelphia and take the course in ophthalmologic nursing 
at Wills Eye Hospital. 

About a week after their arrival, on December 2, Daya was 
attending Louise at the birth of Barbara Louise Rambo. Victor 
Choudharie and Barbara occupied bassinets side by side in the 
Rambo bungalow and grew into the toddling stage together. 

Barbara was born on a Sunday morning, completely disrupting 
the Sunday school session. After delivery at the hospital, Louise 
was carried with the baby to the bungalow, passing directly behind 
the church. The children, outside in the sunshine, were so excited 
about the new baby that classes had to be dismissed. Two-year-old 
Billy, of course, was the most excited of all. 

Like their father before them, the Rambo children had a wealth 
of playmates both Indian and Western. Among the latter were the 
Gamboe children, Rachael and Alice, the former two years older 
than Helen, the latter just her age. 

"I don't believe it," Frances Gamboe had exclaimed when in 1923 
it was announced in the weekly Indian Witness that a family named 
Rambo had arrived in the Disciples Mission. It/ios to be a mistake. 
There could never be Rambos and Gamboes in the same mission!" 
But there could be and, after the Gamboes were appointed to 
Mungeli in 1929, not only were they in the same mission but they 
wers also living in the Big Bungalow only a stone's throw from the 
Rambos. Homer Gamboe's father and Victor's had been students 
together in Lexington College back in 1890. Now Homer was sec- 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


127 


retary of the Mungeli station, which included a Christian commu¬ 
nity of about a thousand and work in nine hundred surrounding 
villages. 

The names aroused frequent amusement as well as confusion. 
Once a man came with a letter and flashed it at Homer, saying, "I 
don't know whether this is for Rumbo or Gumbo, but here it is." 

Although the children of the two families attended different 
boarding schools, the Gamboes going to Woodstock, the American 
school in the north, while the two oldest Rambos were at 
Kodaikanal in the south, during the two months when their winter 
vacations coincided they made the most of their time together. The 
four were dubbed the "Gramboes." Helen and Rachael reveled in 
the books sent from America by Louise's mother. All three girls 
belonged to the Bluebirds, youngest of three Scout groups. It was 
considered valuable for the Christian children, both missionary 
and Indian, to belong to a worldwide organization that was not 
strictly religious. Frances was Bluebird commissioner for the whole 
Bilaspur district. 

She was also the organizer of the junior church that held services 
on Sunday afternoons, conducted in Hindi, in which all four 
"Gramboes" were as fluent as they were in English. Victor was one 
of the most popular speakers at these services, for he illustrated his 
talks with unique features. Once for a "Be Kind to Animals" speech 
he brought into the church a little country horse, which remained 
on the compound and became a favorite pet, the Rambo children 
naming it "Eeyore" out of their beloved Winnie the Pooh. 

Victor was adept at imbuing things potentially dull, like ser¬ 
mons, with excitement. Under his tutelage work became play. He 
enlisted the service of all the "Gramboes" as medical aides. They 
spent many hours at the hospital, rolling bandages and making 
surgical pads; as a reward they were permitted to witness opera¬ 
tions, and also to receive any worn-out instruments with which 
they could play "hospital." They used the Gamboes' big "black 
satin" Labrador retriever as their "patient"; it submitted to all sorts 
of indignities and wearing of bandages with the utmost grace. 
Rachael and Helen were even allowed to hold flashlights for some 
of the eye operations, which gave them a delightful sense of 
importance. 

Victor's insistence on involving children in meaningful activity 
had a double purpose. When he had his son Birch work with the 
gardener or sit down with the least skilled people in the hospital 
making cotton applicators out of small Band-Aid sticks by wrap¬ 
ping cotton around the ends, he was also teaching both workers 
and patients that the most menial work was honorable, education 



128 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


and status not excusing one from hard labor. It was a lesson that 
many Indians, inured through the centuries to the caste system, 
were slow to learn. 

The lives of both families were tightly interknit with the hospital. 
Its proximity was a boon for more than the birth of a baby. When 
Birch received a scout knife from his grandmother and promptly 
cut his knee open, the necessary stitches were only a wailing two 
minutes away. When Frances Gamboe stepped on the head of a 
scorpion in her open-toed sandal and its tail snapped up to sting 
her toe, within minutes she had received an injection that, al¬ 
though not alleviating the pain, prevented permanent injury. It 
was the kind of sting that would have killed a baby. Fortunately the 
parents did not know of the moonlit nights when the "Gramboes" 
crept out of their beds and met by appointment for illicit frolicking 
on the tennis court, probably in their bare feet, tender prey for 
scorpions or cobras. 

Billy, excluded from such exploits, indulged in his own brands of 
mischief. Cheerful and cherubic, he was the darling of the com¬ 
pound. Even Louise in her most despairing moments could not 
resist his charms. Once she found him fully clothed, even to shoes, 
sitting in the tub that th ebhisti (water carrier) had laboriously filled 
with clean water. "Nice bath!" he greeted, looking up into her 
horrified face with an angelic smile. 

Bereft when the older children were away at boarding school, 
Billy was delighted when in 1934 "Ollice" (Alice Gamboe), because 
of a temporary heart condition, was obliged to stay out of school, 
and he became her shadow. Homer made her a little cart with 
bicycle wheels that could be drawn by the children, even Billy, and 
she went everywhere with them. 

It was vacation time and all the children were in Mungeli when a 
thrill occurred, the arrival of the first radio in the Mungeli area. The 
machine was run by a car battery, recharged during the weekly 
trips to Bilaspur. Often in an evening the living room would be 
crowded with a solemn group of Indians, some prominent Hindus 
from the basti (town across the river) sitting on the floor and 
listening wide-eyed to the miraculous voices and music from far 
away. The world, through the BBC, was now minutes instead of 
weeks away. London was nearer than Delhi. News of the death of 
King George V arrived more promptly than that of a birth in 
Bilaspur. Victor, always concerned with world news, tried con¬ 
stantly to stimulate interest in the children, even Billy. 

"Ollice," her small shadow inquired gravely, "you know de 
England?" 

"Yes, Billy, I know the England." 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


129 


He shook his head and announced sadly, "De England died." 

Another thrill was the arrival of the Rambos' first mission car, a 
1932 Ford. The children soon learned that no expedition in the new 
marvel was wholly to get from one place to another. Whenever and 
wherever they drove, Victor would keep continual watch of the 
passersby, and frequently he would halt and jump out to examine 
someone. If he found any who were blind or could not see well, he 
would make a spot diagnosis. If they were going in the direction of 
the hospital and were willing, he would put them in the car and 
take them; otherwise he would urge them to come as soon as 
possible, giving a "chit" to make their coming more certain. A 
patient was much more likely to go to the hospital if he or she had a 
"chit." "Give us a chit and we will be admitted," was the frequent 
plea. The villager's faith in a piece of paper with his name on it and 
addressed to "the one in charge" was his assurance of entrance 
into the place of healing. 

Once, seeing a man terribly emaciated and diagnosing his trou¬ 
ble as an ulcerous obstruction, Victor turned around and took him 
to the hospital, immediately performing major surgery on him. 
Even on his rare hunting trips, as Birch was to discover when 
allowed to accompany his father into the jungles and mountains 
surrounding Mungeli, Victor was more interested in finding pa¬ 
tients than game. The mountains were inhabited by aboriginal 
tribes, the Gonds and Baigas. Once, Birch would recall, his father 
assembled a whole group of patients and got them to lie on the 
ground, examining their abdomens for enlarged spleens due to 
malaria and starting treatment for those needing it. 

Victor's enjoyment of his children had to be concentrated into a 
few months of the year. If there was a sacrifice in a missionary's life, 
it did not involve the lack of luxuries like running water, electricity, 
and air conditioning. It lay in family separation. When the heat 
mounted in March, Victor insisted that Louise take the children to 
the hills, where the older ones at that time would be in school. She 
would not have gone before Victor for herself; only for the chil¬ 
dren. It was not an easy trip, for it involved three days of travel 
with at least two changes of trains, plus a twenty mile trip across 
the plains to the foothills and thirty miles up the mountain. Prepa¬ 
rations had to be made weeks ahead, including train reserva¬ 
tions, accommodations for the day and perhaps night in Madras, 
food and boiled water for meals on the trains, andclothing for weath¬ 
er that would range from the sweltering humidity of the plains 
to the bracing chill of a seven-thousand-foot-high mountain re¬ 
sort. Occasionally she would have "travel dreams" of a child lost 
in a station, trains missed, or baggage diverted, and they be- 



130 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


came family jokes. She was able sometimes to travel part of the 
way with another missionary mother, but because most of the 
mission children of the area went to school in the north, she 
usually was the only adult. 

Although she accepted the journeys with her usual calmness 
and steady competence, it was Victor who derived real enjoyment 
from travel in India. He did much of it, not only to Kodaikanal but 
also to Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay, and Nagpur for mission meetings 
and opthalmologic conferences. Always, when alone, he traveled 
third class, that anomaly of an Indian train that was not only 
overcrowded with people, sometimes hanging to the sides and 
protruding from the windows, but also loaded with a conglomera¬ 
tion of their baggage, chickens, goats, bicycles, and any other 
possessions that could be crammed in. In such a setting Victor was 
in his element. It required ingenuity just to find standing room in 
one of those compartments, but he always managed. The six-foot- 
tall, distinguished-looking foreigner would be helped into the 
melee, and within minutes he would have the total strangers from 
the villages rocking with laughter and insisting on giving him their 
seats. If it was an overnight trip, they would often empty a full 
luggage bench for him to sleep on. 

The Rambos refused to put the children into boarding school 
until after the second grade, and even then, after Victor left in June, 
Louise often stayed in their rented cottage in Kodai until late 
August or early September. She wanted them to have the security 
of home as long as possible. Victor was able to take only a month or 
six weeks of vacation in the hottest season, and the weeks of their 
absence seemed long indeed. 

"It is only thirty-six days about," he wrote his mother one day in 
late August, "until the big girl and the bairns come down from the 
hills. It's a long time this 95 days of waiting for them." 

Even in the three winter months of their school vacation, Victor's 
grueling schedule permitted little interplay with his children. He 
was up early, rushing to the hospital. He would rush home for 
lunch around 1:30 or 2:00, lie down for a refreshing half hour, and 
then return to the hospital for work until early evening. His brief 
bouts of recreation were equally vigorous, hard-fought tennis 
matches in the evening and occasional hunting trips. Occasionally 
in the night he would awake, light a kerosene latern, and sit in his 
big chair in the living room, reading his Bible or medical journals. 
Then a child might awake to find him kneeling beside his or her 
bed, praying silently or in a whisper that each one would choose 
the right kind of life. 

And even his idea of a vacation was not relaxation but constant. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


131 


exuberant activity. It was a month of much excitement with the 
children. Sometimes they all went camping to Green Hut, about 
twelve miles from Kodai, where there was a stone house with 
kitchen, dining room, and two bedrooms—no furniture, just 
rooms. They took their own bedding and on arrival went to the 
hillside and cut armfuls of bracken for mattresses. 

Only once would his son Birch remember a holiday at Kodai 
when his father appeared to be sunk in depression and even then 
his reaction was more rather than less exertion. He bought an axe, 
joined himself to a group of coolies who were felling forest trees, 
and went out every day to chop wood with them. 

"Occupational therapy," he explained grimly. Birch was to find 
out later from Harry Tiedeck that the depression was caused by a 
famine in the Mungeli area. Victor had refused to eat properly 
when so many around him were hungry, and he had doubtless 
depleted his strength as well as his mental well-being. 

On the plains he occasionally took the children hunting, and as 
they grew older he taught them to be extremely careful with guns. 
Once he failed to follow his own advice. He had taken his loaded 
gun to the front verandah for some reason and was standing with it 
pointed at the cement pavement. Birch was having his mandatory 
rest period in the front bedroom, with the screen door between 
him and the verandah. Somehow, as Victor turned to enter the 
house the gun went off, the shot making a hole in the cement floor, 
then ricocheting through the screen door, lacerating one of the 
panels, and splattering on the wall over Birch's head. 

Another mistake with a gun almost got him into more serious 
trouble. The big gray Langur monkeys were a great nuisance on 
the compound. They would often climb into the trees in the garden 
fifteen yards from the house, make a game of removing the tiles 
from the roof, pillage fruits and vegetables, and, like the crows, 
steal food off a table on the unscreened verandah. But because of 
the legendary Hanuman, brave king of the monkeys, Hindus 
considered them too sacred to kill. Driven to exasperation, Victor 
would occasionally venture to shoot one early in the morning, 
having a hole already dug and burying the victim immediately (all 
but the head with the eyes, which he would use for practicing a 
new operation). 

Once, however, he was tempted beyond endurance, and not 
early in the morning. One of the big, gray pests, more daring than 
most, swung down to the verandah where he was engrossed in 
reading, seized a banana from his hand, and fled. It was too much. 
Victor went for his shotgun and pursued. Safe in a tree, the 
monkey chattered down at him, all but thumbing its nose. Victor 



132 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


fired, intending only to scare the beast away, but his aim was too 
good. He killed it. One of the pellets fell down close to a prominent 
Hindu at the riverside behind the house, perhaps a hundred yards 
away. Hearing the shot and the pellet fall and feeling his life had 
been endangered, the man came indignantly to the house, display¬ 
ing the pellet wrapped in a handkerchief. Finding the monkey 
killed, his indignation could have been thorny. A crowd gathered, 
and for a time Victor's excellent rapport with the Hindu commu¬ 
nity seemed in jeopardy. Thanks to his genuine regret and profuse 
apologies, however, he was reluctantly forgiven. 

Perhaps the very lack of constant association with his children 
colored their rare adventures with brighter hues. Certainly for each 
child some shared experiences would be etched indelibly in mem¬ 
ory. For Barbara there was a night during Diwali, the Hindu Festi¬ 
val of Lamps. She and Bill were ready for bed in their pajamas. 
Daddy came home late and said, "Let's all go and see the lights in 
the bazaar." Mother was surprised and so were the children, but all 
were delighted. They put on their bathrobes, jumped in the car, 
and drove into fairyland. Windows, doors, verandahs, housetops 
— all were outlined with little clay pots filled with oil and set alight. 
They waved to the storekeepers they knew and shouted namaste. 

And she would always remember one Christmas. It was the 
custom on such holidays to share special goodies. People would 
come to the house bringing cakes, cookies, and other sweets. That 
day it was raining. Instead of the usual dust—light, fine, and 
brown around one's ankles—there was mud several inches deep. 
How could they deliver the goodies? "You may go barefoot," 
decided Daddy. It was a forbidden luxury because of danger from 
hookworm except in houses right around their house. They took 
off their shoes, walked in the delicious mud, delivered their 
goodies, and then returned home to wash their feet. 

Billy would always remember how at age five he triumphantly 
brought his father a wonderful thing he had found, a double 
banana. When Victor's only response was to open the fruit and eat 
it, the boy burst into tears. Penitent, realizing too late his son's 
interest in the rarity, Victor jumped on his bicycle, rode to the 
bazaar, and came back bearing a triple banana, over which they 
marveled together. Nor would Billy forget the time when they 
went to visit another missionary in Bilaspur and found a nurses' 
meeting in progress, with several dozen sandals paired on the 
porch outside the door. "Let's mix them up," he suggested, and 
Victor promptly agreed. When the meeting broke up, father and 
son gleefully witnessed the consternation, laughter, and mad 
scramble. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


133 


Birch would remember going with Dad into the town on Hindu 
holidays when it was the custom to visit the officials, take gifts, 
have tea with them, and pass the time of day. Dad would eat the 
spices offered to him but never accept pan , the little three-cornered 
leaf delicacy containing betel nut, which stained the teeth red. He 
was as rigidly opposed to its use as he was to tobacco smoking. Yet 
when Birch experimented with the habit he was mild in his disap¬ 
proval, revealing an innate sympathy with boyish pranks, and 
probably also an awareness that the boy would not enjoy having 
his teeth colored red. 

All Birch's memories would not be so happy. There was the time 
he played the part of Huckleberry Finn in a school play, returning 
home with all the pride of an acclaimed Thespian after a night of 
glory. 

"Don't take the crowd's plaudits too seriously," his father said, 
pricking the inflated bubble. "Of course they complimented you, 
realizing it was the performance of a ninth grader. Don't get the 
idea you can become a real actor." 

For Helen there was a trip to Calcutta, just Daddy and herself, 
when they stayed with a wonderful old lady named Mrs. Lee who 
had her groom and horse and carriage ride her to the zoo. Two 
memories of the trip would remain with her always: riding like a 
princess in a chariot to the clop , clop , clop rhythm of the horses; and 
having Daddy for once all to herself. 

But a shorter trip would be even more memorable. Victor and 
several of the Indian staff were going out to shoot ducks on a 
village "tank," a small reservoir, several miles off the road; and to 
her delight she and some of the other children were allowed to 
accompany them. As they walked along the raised boundary be¬ 
tween two fields, she saw a farmer guiding his single-bladed plow 
along a furrow. When he saw them coming, he suddenly left his 
bullock and hurried along the path to meet them, brown face 
radiant and smiling, eyes bright behind a most incongruous pair of 
steel-rimmed spectacles. He knelt down, bowed his head, and 
lifted his hands in the Indian gesture of worship before Daddy, 
who raised him up in joyful recognition — an old patient whose 
sight he had restored. 

"Namaste, brother! God loves you!" 

There on the dusty path the hunter, suddenly all doctor, checked 
the villager's eyes, his vision, his glasses, and his general health, 
giving him as patient and painstaking attention as if they had met 
in the hospital. While the others shifted impatiently, for it was 
approaching dusk, Helen watched closely, realizing in her childish 
way that here was a scene she should always remember. Only later 



134 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


would she see it in its true perspective, a tiny scene typical of her 
father's entire character and life. 

In 1936 a much longer journey was in prospect, demanding from 
Louise far more extended preparation than the annual trips to and 
from Kodai. Victor, always in command of every situation, would 
be in charge. However, his concerns were large-scale—passports, 
ships, stopovers, hospitals, and dignitaries to be visited; whereas 
hers were mundane but multitudinous—clothes for a family of six 
journeying from the tropics through winter into spring, toys and 
books on a long sea voyage for four children ranging in age from 
two to twelve, Indian mementos for relatives and friends, and 
other innumerable details. 

They left on furlough in November, a year earlier than planned 
because Victor had been suffering an unexplained loss of weight, 
and a period of relaxation was recommended. Barbara celebrated 
her second birthday in Yokohama. In Claremont, California, the 
family settled for the winter at Pilgrim Place, close to Victor's 
mother and Aunt Flora, who were now living together in their 
retirement, and to old friends Louis and Louise Bentley, who had 
long been supporters of the work in Mungeli. For six months 
Louise devoted herself to the care of the four children. It was a 
winter of threatened destruction of the orange groves, and smudge 
pots with crude oil and old car tires burned night after night. 
Barbara, a born climber frequently found on top of the porch or 
portico, looked like a moving smudge pot herself, sooted from toes 
to eyebrows. Even without bathtubs and running water, Louise 
preferred the dust and mud of India. 

As usual the children from Kodaikanal school were ahead of 
American pupils in their studies, and Birch's problem was too fast 
advancement. He seemed likely to complete two grades in one. 

"Don't let him," advised Victor's old playmate Grace McGavran, 
who had become a specialist in child training. "Take him to the 
Y.M.C. A. and ask them to work out a program of physical educa¬ 
tion and teamwork suited to his age." 

They did so, and an understanding secretary performed won¬ 
ders for the thirteen-year-old boy in teamwork and physical de¬ 
velopment. 

Meanwhile, Victor traveled throughout the Northwest, speak¬ 
ing in churches, visiting hospitals, and taking medical study. At 
the midwinter course of ophthalmology in Los Angeles he met Dr. 
Arthur Jones of Boise, Idaho. 

"I need help," he told Victor, offering payment of the family's 
travel expenses to Boise and the use of a car, a house, and every 
facility in the office, plus, of course, a substantial stipend. Louise 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


135 


joined Victor there after schools closed. Boise was full of excite¬ 
ment. Helen enjoyed Dr. Jones's fine riding horses. For Victor it 
was a rewarding time, learning new techniques from a successful 
team of doctors and finding that he could contribute new skills to 
these sophisticated doctors through his experience with trachoma 
and cataract patients, having done scores of times more cataract 
operations than any surgeon in America had had opportunity to 
do. He discovered also that private practice in America was incred¬ 
ibly profitable compared to a missionary's salary. When urged to 
remain, he was almost tempted. It might be better, he thought, to 
provide funds for a new hospital in India, for training dozens of 
Indian doctors, and for buying the most up-to-date equipment 
than to furnish one doctor's labor. But of course he did not seri¬ 
ously consider the possibility. He had already committed his life. 

That summer, for further experience, he attended the Edward 
Jackson Eye Course given by the Colorado Ophthalmic Society. 
One day he was invited to dinner by Dr. James Morrison, then a 
resident at Colorado General Hospital in Denver. 

"You'll be our first dinner guest since our marriage," confessed 
the young doctor. 

Delighted and, as usual, careless of conventions, Victor took 
along a quart of ice cream, explaining that he loved this delicacy 
and always bought it when in the States. Long afterward, after 
years of correspondence, when the two met at a meeting in Brus¬ 
sels, Dr. Morrison again invited him to dinner. 

"Sure," agreed Victor with a grin, "if I can bring the ice cream." 

In the fall the Rambos moved on to Philadelphia, staying with 
Louise's mother through the winter and spring. While Louise took 
college courses toward the degree sacrificed to early marriage, 
Victor spoke constantly in churches, impressing his audiences not 
only with his contagious enthusiasm but also with his unforgetta¬ 
ble, sometimes startling bursts of spontaneity. One young woman 
would always remember her introduction to this unexpectedness. 

It was at a Christmas service in a church in Philadelphia. Victor 
was asked if he would come forward and say a.few words. She 
would never forget his striding up the aisle, making a sort of 
humming noise as he went. Arriving at the pulpit, he stretched his 
long arms high and wide; his face was radiant with an almost 
angelic fervor. 

"Merry Christmas, Jesus!" he cried. "I'm so happy to be here this 
morning and greet You on Your birthday." 

One of Victor's greatest concerns was the infection that crept into 
a few of his intraocular operative eyes. He agonized over such 
patients, knowing it would have been better if they had never 



136 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


come for operations. It did not matter if the patient and his family 
attached no blame to the surgeon, saying, if he was a Hindu, "You 
could not help it. Doctor. It was his Karma"; or if a Muslim, "It was 
his Kismet." He felt no less anguish. To a specialist in eyes in India, 
to lose an eye was almost like losing a life. He wanted to find out 
what the new sulfa drugs could do for such infections. He went to 
Boston, hoping to study with Dr. Frederick Verhoef, a noted re¬ 
searcher and ophthalmologist. 

"And what are your plans for research?" asked the specialist. 

"We have been losing about one in a hundred of the eyes we 
operate on for cataract through infection," Victor told him. "I have 
read of the effect of sulfanilimide on the restraining of infections, 
but I have not found where a methodical study has been done on 
its effect on the eye. Does it go into the eye itself or not? And if so, 
how much? I would like to experiment with its effect on rabbits." 

Dr. Verhoef nodded approvingly. Once Victor adjusted himself 
to language reminiscent of Indian gali and the profanity of the 
Wyoming ditchdiggers, as well as a barrage of tobacco smoke— 
two of his pet aversions—he could size up his new mentor as one 
of the kindest, most reasonable, and most honest men he had ever 
known, as well as one of the finest ophthalmologists of the first half 
of the twentieth century. He worked closely with Victor, providing 
him with every facility available. If Victor needed chemical assis¬ 
tance, there was the general hospital close by. When he needed 
more rabbits, they were available. If he wanted to stay all night to 
observe the effect of the drug at stated hours, a room was provided 
for him. And at the end of the study the two produced a paper that 
was a valued addition to knowledge of the sulfas' entrance into the 
body as defense against infection and the methods necessary when 
antibiotics had to be tested. 

While in Boston, Victor lived with a cousin of Louise, Spencer 
Steinmetz, a man of prominence who introduced him to the city's 
social life. At his insistence Victor reluctantly bought his first dress 
suit, dinner jacket and pants with a silk stripe up the sides, and 
vest, shirt, and tie to harmonize. Fed at Emily Steinmetz's table 
with Boston's most nourishing viands—lobsters, baked beans, 
and oysters wrapped in bacon and roasted on a stick—he gained 
back all the pounds he had ever lost and more. It was a happy 
climax to the furlough. 

The Rambos sailed in the spring of 1938 from New York to 
Rotterdam on the maiden voyage of the New Amsterdam and spent 
two weeks at Noordwijk aan Zee, with side trips to Leyden and 
Amsterdam. Helen was enthralled when Victor took her with him 
up the Rhine by train to Schaffhausen to visit the Grieshabers. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


137 


Whenever he needed an instrument sharpened, Victor sent it to 
Johan Grieshaber and his sons, the company that created the finest 
eve instruments in the world. Always it would come back with a 
modest bill and perhaps a statement like this: "We have found that 
the steel of knife number so-and-so cannot take a sufficiently keen 
edge, so we are replacing this with one of our new knives with our 
compliments." It was a journey of contrasts, Gestapo severity and 
suspicion on one side, and on the other the consideration and 
warmth of railroad employees and the kindly hospitality of Johan 
Grieshaber and his wife and two sons. 

From Rotterdam the Rambos sailed on the Dutch ship Baloeran to 
Colombo, arriving at the end of June and bringing from Holland 
not only the memory of windmills and tulips but also a case of 
chicken pox. Birch had caught the disease from some children 
while boarding at Rotterdam. While Victor remained in quarantine 
with Birch in Colombo, Louise went on to Kodai, expecting to have 
three more cases on her hands. Fortunately there was none. After 
leaving Birch at Kodai, Victor went on, not to Mungeli but to 
Bilaspur, where he was to take Dr. Hope Nichoson's place during 
her year of furlough, directing the hospital there but spending two 
days each week in Mungeli. It was a year of marking time, postpon¬ 
ing the extension of the eye program for which he had ambitious 
plans. He chafed at the delay. 

Yet the work in the Bilaspur hospital was challenging, and he 
expended all his energy in giving it his most enthusiastic effort. As 
in Mungeli, he was never able to keep pace with all the demands on 
his time and interests. 

"I remember his sudden ideas and inspirations," Ruth Mitchell, 
the nursing superintendent, would recall, and often his disap¬ 
pointment when it wasn't possible to do all that he would like to 
have had done immediately. I remember how absorbed he used to 
get with whatever he was doing at the time. Appointments for 
lectures—even for surgery—were often forgotten. We would find 
him deeply concerned for some patient in the clinic and the patient 
obviously receiving spiritual blessing along with his physical heal¬ 
ing. When called he would answer rather absently, 'Yes, Honey, I 
am coming within five minutes,' and promptly forget the prom- 
ise." 

She would never forget one incident. A little girl was admitted 
with a very high fever that was not responding to treatment. The 
assistant doctor who was filling the need for a month in Doctor 
Nichoson's absence said she thought nothing more could be done 
for the child. She would doubtless die soon. Miss Mitchell decided 
to send a note to Victor, who was living about a half mile from the 





138 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


hospital. She told him what the assistant doctor had said and said 
that she thought she should report it even though it was his rest 
time. If she was disturbing him unnecessarily, she was sorry. Victor 
came immediately. 

"Have I ever refused to see a patient you thought needed me?" he 
scolded her. 

Then he worked with the sick child continuously for the next five 
hours, and they had the joy of seeing her recover. Twenty years 
later Miss Mitchell, meeting the child's mother, would exchange a 
warm smile with her as both remembered that day. After that, 
whenever she felt impatient with Victor's impulsive demands for 
some impossible thing to be produced at once, she would recall 
how he had looked while concentrating his brilliant mind and 
skillful hands on the healing of that little patient. 

Louise remained with the children at Kodai, and it was during 
those prewar years that Helen and Birch began to appreciate fully 
the superior attributes of their mother. Her knowledge and intel¬ 
lectual curiosity covered almost any subject they were studying. 
Birch could not remember asking her the meaning of a word 
without receiving a clear definition. She had read to them from 
babyhood, stretching their minds from fairy tales and Bible stories 
to works of history and science, including introduction to her 
favorite Agatha Christie novels and other mysteries. Always 
deeply concerned with world events, she helped them understand 
the problems of the Hitler years, giving a Christian and humane 
interpretation, shrewdly analyzing the political leaders and their 
decisions. She made sure they understood their faith, helping 
them develop into evangelical Christians but with open minds, 
unfettered by the small legalisms that many Christians seemed to 
have. 

"She had an ability to absorb knowledge," Louise's classmate 
"Bidge" was to tell Birch much later. "I believe she is the most 
intelligent person I have ever met"—a statement that would have 
elicited shocked and horrified denial from the self-effacing Louise. 

October 1938 found the Rambos together again in Bilaspur. The 
"Gramboes" were also reunited, for by a happy coincidence 
Homer Gamboe and his family were once more living in a house 
just across the road. Once more they became an adventurous team, 
augmented now by the children of Donald McGavran, tearing 
around the compound on their bicycles; touring the bazaar, where 
they sat for hours, watching a friendly goldsmith spin out threads 
from silver and gold bars and make the most delicate filigree 
jewelry; and visiting the hospital, where in their attempts to help 
they made themselves unpopular with the nurses. The latter might 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


139 


have been less disturbed could they have looked forward and seen 
the result of these hospital experiences, Rachael earning a degree 
in nursing from Western Reserve and Helen one in science from 
Wilson College. 

It was the young Rambos who stored up the most vivid mem¬ 
ories of Bilaspur. Barbara, set to guard the food on the breakfast 
table, endured agonies trying vainly to keep the crows from 
swooping down and stealing th echappatis. They were too clever for 
her. It was much more fun to watch the milkman bring his buffalo 
cow with its calf to the kitchen door to be milked, making sure that 
he did not dilute the milk with water. 

It was Helen who had the most exciting adventure during these 
Bilaspur months. The McGavrans had just returned from fur¬ 
lough, and their three children were begging for an outing in the 
jungle. Rachael, Alice, Helen, and Birch all went along for a 
three-day trip into the heart of the forest, real tiger country. 

One morning Rachael, Helen Rambo, and Helen McGavran 
were left at the camp in the care of the Gamboes' cook, Prem, while 
all the others went hunting in the jungle for tigers. After an early 
lunch the girls started out for a walk near the camp, taking with 
them a shikari (guide) and a .22 caliber rifle. Helen McGavran was 
carrying the rifle. They were walking along the crest of a low ridge 
when Helen McGavran, who was in front, screamed. She had 
almost stepped on an eight-foot-long python, curled up in the 
path. 

"Shoot it!" cried Helen Rambo. But the other Helen was so 
unnerved by the shock that she just stood, the rifle dangling from 
her hands. 

"Give it to me," ordered Helen Rambo. "I'll shoot it, but first 
youTl have to tell me how to fire it." She had never fired a .22, 
although Victor had trained all his children in the use of other 
guns. 

"No!" protested the shikari in horror, for he belonged to a tribe 
that considered the snake sacred. Probably also he alone realized 
the danger of attacking such an adversary, whose lightning-swift 
coils could easily squeeze the life out of a body three times the size 
of a slight fifteen-year-old. But his warnings fell on deaf ears. 

Helen crept up as close as she could to be sure not to miss. She 
fired straight at its head, and it started writhing, circling all around 
her. Seizing the bamboo stick she had been carrying, she struck at 
its head whenever it appeared in its twistings. Finally she managed 
to get the head down, put the gun barrel hard against it, and shoot. 
The excitement of the hunt was in her blood and allayed all fear. 
Now that it was dead, she wanted to get it back to camp so they 



140 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


could show off their trophy. They gave the gun to the shikari , 
straightened the snake's body as best they could, and, all three 
girls lifting it, started for the camp. It was still a writhing mass, and 
they had to lay it down several times to straighten out the coils. 

Only when they met several Indian women, one of whom threw 
up her hands in horror and cried, "Ai-oh\ Don't you know such 
snakes are poison?" did Helen sense that she had been in danger. 
Remembering its head, writhing all around her ankles, she nearly 
fainted. The python was not poisonous, of course, but its coils 
could have been even more deadly than venom. When they got 
back to camp, the hunting parties had returned, and the seven 
teen-agers were able to hold the trophy down while the men 
skinned it. They extracted the liver, which looked like a hot dog, 
and cut off a steak or two so all could brag that they had eaten 
python. When the carcass was thrown aside it continued to writhe, 
and even the next day, when only a little flesh was left on the 
skeleton, it was still moving feebly. Helen took the skin home in 
triumph, salted and dried it, and sent it for curing. Forty years later 
it would still be a prized possession. 

When Victor heard of the exploit, however, pride in his offspring 
was mingled with shock and guilt. Had he succeeded in teaching 
his children the safe use of guns but failed to educate them in 
equally dangerous hazards? He hastened to tell them the story of 
how, when in childhood, he had seen the python in the path, had 
backed up, and, taking a flying leap and clearing it by several feet, 
had run home as fast as his legs could carry him. 

But no warning could have protected Barbara from a danger she 
experienced in early childhood. The family was driving from 
Mungeli to Bilaspur for shopping and other business and had left 
her with the McGavrans. She was four or five years old. Wanting to 
entertain her, the hostess gave her a bucket of toys to play with. 
Sitting on the verandah, the child pulled them out one after the 
other, examining each one intently. Presently she grasped an object 
and pulled at it—pulled and pulled. It kept coming; not a toy, but a 
live snake three feet long. Fortunately it was limp and sleepy, 
doubtless as surprised as she was. She threw it from her and 
jumped up, crying out. Servants came running, whacked it with a 
club, and killed it. She had had a narrow escape, for it was a krait, 
an extremely venomous snake. 

During the months they were in Bilaspur, Europe was plunging 
into tragedy. It all seemed very far away until in August 1939 a 
refugee family came to the mission station. One day in Kodaikanal 
Victor met Rudolph Elsberg, a graduate of the medical school of 
Bologna University in Italy, who had fled from the Nazi persecu- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


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tion. He was staying with the Rosenthals, not far from where the 
Rambos were living at Association Hill. He had no place to go and 
was despondent because he had no work after all his preparation. 
He had become a Catholic and married a Catholic girl from Italy. 
There were plans for her to follow him to India. 

"Come with me," Victor offered heartily, trusting his committee 
to provide the necessary funds. He came, and when the move was 
made back to Mungeli, Rudolph and his wife, Bruna, became part 
of the Rambo household and remained there two years. He picked 
up the language quickly and had a keen medical mind as well as 
thorough training. His wife gave valuable assistance by instructing 
the nursing students in her specialty, massage. Victor would gladly 
have kept them on permanently in the mission, but the board 
refused to consider it, and Dr. Elsberg moved on to do heroic 
service with the British army. 

Even after the war began in late 1939, the problems of India 
seemed of greater concern to Victor than those of France and 
England. The struggle for independence activated for many years 
by Gandhi's technique of nonviolent resistance was at white-hot 
heat. When war was declared, Britain had taken the country into 
the conflict by proclamation and without consultation. Indian 
nationalists resented this presumptuous action. Indians would 
gladly join with other free nations in defense, but only by their own 
choice and as a free nation. Tensions were high between all sorts of 
groups—Hindus and Muslims, some of whom were agitating for a 
separate state; Indians and Britons; and Britons and Americans, 
many of whom were in sympathy with the independence move¬ 
ment. 

Victor, although keenly interested in world events, was not 
involved in politics. He was far more concerned with bringing 
sight to India's blind than with freeing the country from foreign 
domination. A visit he had made to Wardha, Gandhi's ashram, had 
been disappointing. The Mahatma had not responded to his plea 
for emphasis on village health, perhaps necessarily, for he had the 
colossal task of molding the will of his country to nonviolent 
resistance. They presented a curious contrast, the scrawny little 
Indian in his loincloth, squatting crosslegged on his cotton rug, 
and the tall, lanky American; yet they were much alike. Both were 
intense lovers of India, each obsessed by a single if differing objec¬ 
tive for her welfare: one by political independence for her five 
hundred million people; the other by sight for her five million 
curable blind. 

It was a relief to be back full-time in Mungeli, but Victor felt more 
frustration than satisfaction in what he was able to accomplish. 



142 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Out of the five million, the hundreds whose sight he was able to 
restore seemed pitifully small. Just in the 250 surrounding villages 
there were thousands of blind needing surgery, yet there was no 
time and not enough staff to bring them in. 

Dayal Sukhnandan went to America in 1939, leaving Philip 
James in his place. He left Bombay on the last Italian ship to make 
the trip to Europe. Before he arrived in the States, war had 
erupted, and three years would pass before he could return. Al¬ 
though Victor rejoiced at Dayal's opportunity to study, having 
made it possible himself through the Rambo Committee, he 
missed him sorely. Once more he was the only surgeon in Mungeli. 

In these years of their third term, the Rambos noted time as B.T. 
and A.T., "Before Tom" and "After Tom." On August 28, 1940, 
their youngest child, Thomas Clough, was bom in Ranipet, in a 
hospital founded by Dr. Lewis Scudder, a cousin of Dr. Ida. It was 
Dr. Galen Scudder, son of Dr. Lewis, who brought the newcomer 
into the world. 

On the heels of the increase in family came its first break. In 
March 1941, Victor went with Helen to Bombay to see her off to 
college in America. There was worry as well as sense of loss in the 
parting, for travel was attended by wartime danger. She had a 
six-week sail around the Cape of Good Hope, every long day 
seeming to bear her farther into the coldness and strangeness of 
winter. She felt desolate and deserted until she discovered in her 
Bible reading the verse, "When my father and my mother let me 
down, then the Lord will take me up." She landed in New York at 
the end of April. Riding with Grandmother Birch on the train to 
Philadelphia, she felt the strangeness lessen at the sight of the new, 
tender leaves of spring, like Indian jungle trees. 

There was cultural shock also, especially in language. Indian 
English, British-born, was not like American. She could under¬ 
stand words yet miss their meaning. American slang was com¬ 
pletely unintelligible. And all the girls she met looked so stylishly 
dressed and groomed. She knew suddenly that the suit made by 
the Mungeli darzi looked hopelessly out-of-fashion. 

That summer Helen studied for college entrance, took the exams 
and passed, and qualified to enter Wilson College that fall. Thanks 
to Margaret Haines, she also attended a young people's conference 
at Keswick, New Jersey, an experience of such spiritual enrichment 
that she spent the next summer there waiting on tables. Yet in spite 
of grandmother, new friends, and a more vital Christian faith, the 
four years of college were painful and difficult. 

Oceans and continents could never sever the young Rambos 
from family roots. Louise saw to that. Her letters followed them 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


143 


regularly wherever they went, whether to Kodai, America, or, 
later, to Ethiopia and Zaire. Victor, no less loving and caring, 
nonetheless had little time to write. He would scrawl on the back of 
Mother's letters, "Hello from Dad Vic," "Love," "Be good," or 
"Praying for you." 

It was Louise, too, who unified the family in Mungeli. Victor was 
the high-powered engine, tuned to maximum voltage, sparked by 
flaring ideas and plans that, if uncontrolled, might have resulted in 
bumed-out bearings. Louise was the balance wheel, holding the 
mechanism in check, toning to moderation. 

"Dad is very good at taking care of patients," commented Bill 
astutely at age ten or twelve, "but he doesn't seem to be so good at 
running things." 

Victor was an all-out person, euphoric in expending energy, 
whether jigging, fencing, smashing tennis balls, or doing the 
strenuous exercises recommended by Gene Tunney in a Reader's 
Digest article wherever he happened to be, sometimes to the in¬ 
tense embarrassment of his children. He was the visionary, the 
ebullient planner of large enterprise; Louise was the practical 
analyst who weighed all aspects of a problem. "Now, Victor," she 
would say, curbing some excess of energy in the same calm tone 
that adjured Billy to come down from the high branches of a nim 
tree. 

They frequently disagreed and sometimes argued, to the dis¬ 
tress of young Barbara, who at such times shrank into an uneasy 
silence. Only later would she realize that her mother had to express 
her varying opinions for self-preservation, that otherwise she 
could not have survived his strong personality and remained the 
competent and confident person she was. She would also come to 
realize that Victor wanted and needed this steadying complement 
to his boundless energy and exuberance. The practical argument 
did not always prevail, however. Louise sometimes protested over 
Victor's largesse to every chance visitor with a hard-luck story. 
Again and again there would be the shuffling step on the veran¬ 
dah, the little cough announcing the person's presence, the sad 
tale of need, and Victor's invariable response with money that 
could be ill spared. Somehow the visitor usually managed to arrive 
during his brief sojourns at home. 

"How do you know," she would frequently inquire, "that so and 
so [it might be a student, an unemployed Indian, or even a West¬ 
erner] isn't a deadbeat, taking advantage of your reputation for 
handouts?" 

"I don't," was the gist of his reply. "If they use what I give them 
in an unfortunate way, that's their responsibility, mine only to 



144 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


comply with Christian teaching." Surely, he reminded with a 
twinkle, she could not object if someone asked him for his coat and 
he gave his cloak also. But Louise could and did. It depended on 
what the man was going to do with the cloak, she retorted. If he 
was going to sit around in it when he should be working. . . . 

Victor applied the same philosophy to occasional use of free 
service at the hospital by people who could well afford to pay. One 
day when he was about five miles out on the road beyond Mungeli, 
he met a Brahmin who had been a friend of the work for many 
years. 

"Nattiaskar!" they greeted each other simultaneously. 

"Sahib," the Brahmin said, "I just met so and so [He gave the 
name]. He's the rich head man of a village. I gave him a tongue 
lashing. Do you know what this man who has so many stores of 
grain in his house that he does not know what to do with it said to 
me? He said, T have just been to the Christian hospital in Mungeli, 
and I pretended not to have anything and wore my oldest clothes. 
Do you know I have wonderfully restored sight, and they did not 
charge me anything, and I even got my food free from their store 
for the poor/1 told him off. 'You son of an owl/1 said, 'why did you 
cheat the Sahib who was so good to everybody that he looked after 
you free? And you took the food meant for the poor! This is 
inexcusable. You should go right home and take a sack of nice rice 
or wheat and give it to the hospital in thankfulness for your sight. I 
order you to/ " 

"Thank you, brother," said Victor. "I understand how you feel. 
But we would rather be cheated forty times over than disallow 
treatment or inflict continued suffering on a poor person who 
really needs our help. Those who cheat us are few, but the poor 
who cannot afford to pay us are too many to count." 

War raged in Europe and the Pacific and tensions mounted 
between India and Britain, but Victor continued his work with few 
interruptions. Because Mungeli was a remote spot in the country, 
military men would occasionally go there for convalescence or a 
brief vacation. It was a welcome diversion for the missionaries as 
well as the soldiers, bringing a fresh breath from the world outside. 
Two were British anti-aircraft gunners; but, Victor discovered, 
even men who had shot down airplanes had problems shooting in 
Indian forests. 

Victor and another missionary, Franklin White, took these two 
out on a hunt. By noon a chital (spotted deer) had been shot by the 
party, so there was meat to take back. Franklin had gone ahead 
with the airmen, and Victor and the rest of the party were following 
with the game. It was noon, no time for an animal to be seen, but a 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


145 


big, spotted deer buck had gone to drink and was on his way back 
to the forest. One of the airmen had a .303 Savage rifle, the other a 
12 gauge shotgun. The deer came from the lake at their right and 
went by them within fifteen feet. The rifle went off time and again. 
The shotgun was fired, reloaded, and used again. Franklin found 
that the only safe place was lying flat in the ditch because the shots 
were going off in all directions. The last they saw of the buck, he 
was in perfect condition, retreating into the woods, lifting his heels 
in a parting kick before disappearing. The airmen enjoyed the 
laugh at their expense, but not as much as the missionaries. 

"Pure buck fever," Victor consoled. "Tve done the same thing in 
Wyoming." 

It was Louise who became more personally involved with dif¬ 
ficulties resulting from the war. In 1942 the Japanese navy 
threatened to attack southern India. On her way to Kodai with 
Tommy in early April, the train pulled into Madras station in a 
blackout, coolies traveling through the dimness with their head¬ 
loads of baggage while guided by lanterns. They were able to ride 
through the darkened streets in a tonga and reach the Y.W.C. A. in 
safety, where they had reserved accommodations for the night. 
Arriving in Kodai, she had no sooner taken the children out of 
boarding school and installed them in her rented cottage than she 
learned that Americans had been three times advised by the consu¬ 
late to leave southern India for the north. All was pandemonium. 
The school started spring vacation early and, somewhat reluc¬ 
tantly, families who had homes in the north left Kodai. 

Louise and the children started in a group of about fifteen, with 
two Kodai teachers. Because the coastal route, via Madras, was 
considered dangerous, they had to go by Erode, Bangalore, and 
Secunderabad to Nagpur, where Victor met them. 

"Why?" he demanded, mystified by their return. In the Mungeli 
area there had been no hint of alarm. After three weeks of blister¬ 
ingly hot "vacation," they were able to return to Kodai and school 
was again in session. Later they learned that the rumor was by no 
means unfounded. That April Colombo had been bombed by the 
Japanese, and soon after they left there had been a bombing of 
Madras. The whole area had been swept by panic. Word had come 
that the Japanese fleet was steaming northward, and the city had 
begun evacuating. But some development had turned them away, 
and the attack of India had been averted. 

During these days of extreme tension, in spite of his status as a 
Westerner and his friendliness with British officials, Victor con¬ 
tinued to enjoy the confidence and friendship of even those In¬ 
dians most closely associated with the independence movement. 



146 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


He had almost always been on the best of terms with the Hindu 
community. There were rare occasions when the very nature of his 
work brought him into conflict with the age-old tenets of Hin¬ 
duism. Once an Indian came to the door of the bungalow. He was 
tall and gaunt, his face was badly pockmarked, and his forehead 
was smeared with the trident-shaped mark of the god Vishnu. He 
announced his presence with a rasping cough and, when Victor 
appeared, began railing at him. 

"Doctor Sahib, people praise you for taking out cataracts, but I 
say you are doing them harm, depriving them of their due penance 
in this, their present incarnation. You think you are doing them 
good by taking away their blindness? Ji-nahin, no. You give them 
sight now, and they must be blind in the next life. Let them alone." 
Turning, he stalked away. There had been no personal animosity in 
his denunciation, certainly no threat. Like an Old Testament pro¬ 
phet, he had delivered his message and, duty fulfilled, retired with 
dignity. 

There were times when the beliefs of Hinduism, expecially those 
relating to caste, almost jeopardized the results of Victor's surgery. 
This happened once during his first term when a man named 
Anjori appeared in the hospital with no one to care for him. He had 
almost a one hundred percent chance of getting good vision in both 
eyes, and Victor operated on his cataracts. When there was no one 
at hand to cook the food and care for the patient, as in this case, 
there were always people in the Christian community willing to 
come in and care for his essential needs for a pittance of money. But 
at that time watching every minute was impossible and usually not 
necessary. This patient was so quiet and cooperative that Victor 
had no worries. The next day the eyes were dressed. Anjori would 
not take anything to eat or drink, even milk. The third morning, 
when Victor made his rounds the patient was not in his bed, not in 
the ward, and not in the toilet. His thick sheet, his dhus, was folded 
carefully on the mattress filled with kodo straw on the galvanized 
iron bed. A neatly rolled bandage and two eye pads lay on the dhus . 

"He rose early this morning," said the patient in the next bed. "If 
he stayed, he said, he would certainly eat the Sahib's food, for he 
had offered it kindly and he was getting very hungry and thirsty, 
but he had never eaten any food prepared by any other caste than 
his own. And he had never taken away anything that did not 
belong to him, so he would not take away his bandages." 

Victor fumed helplessly. He scolded the attendants of the pa¬ 
tients in the other beds, but they only responded, "Kyah karen? 
What could one do? He wanted to go." And one night watchman 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


147 


for 150 patients could hardly keep track of a man who wanted to 
walk away. 

About six weeks later Victor met Anjori in the marketplace. His 
former patient grinned sheepishly. Both his eyes were quite per¬ 
fect, although without glasses his vision was not thoroughly useful 
for detail. The incision was fully healed. Pupils were round, central 
and reacting, anterior chambers well formed, corneas clear. And 
these were the days before stitches were used, just a careful and 
tender replacement of the cornea and the conjunctival flap. Victor 
offered to give him glasses if he would come to the hospital, but he 
never came. And he had not broken caste. 

Are we keeping the patients bandaged too long? Victor wondered. 
Could we let them go home sooner than the eight days we are keeping 
than? Given the usual conditions found in village India, he de¬ 
cided not to release patients sooner. 

Even the Indian students who came to work under him were not 
wholly impervious to the inhibitions of caste. During cholera time, 
Victor once had another patient in the hospital whose family was 
not there to attend to his needs. 

"He should have food," Victor said to one of his students. 

"He is not of my caste," was the firm reply. "I cannot feed him." 

Yet even in those pre-independence days, before caste was le¬ 
gally prohibited, Victor noticed a change in the attitudes of his 
students. Whether the result of the democratic ethic at work in the 
new India or of the Christian teaching and example of their fellow 
workers, there was a growing conviction among young Hindus 
that service to people was more important than the old taboos. 

Yet even among Christian workers there was a reluctance to 
assume tasks that were considered by Hindus to belong only to the 
lower castes or the Untouchables. Victor often tried to break these 
taboos by setting an example. He determined that he would never 
ask anybody to do what he would be unwilling to do himself, even 
the work of sweeper or scavenger. In fact, he felt the need as a 
Christian missionary to become a "sweeper" to dignify the place of 
an Untouchable. When opportunity afforded and he was not in 
surgical dress, he would clean up the compound and remove the 
result of gross indiscretion on the part of a patient. Whether it 
helped anyone but himself he never discovered, but at least he 
knew it was what the Lord would have done had He been there. 

"What caste would you choose," he sometimes asked himself, 
"if you were a Hindu and had to be born into one?" Always his 
reply was, "a sweeper." It was they who most aroused his respect 
and admiration. They were unafraid. Never would one run away 



148 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


from duty in a cholera epidemic. Cheerfully they would clean up 
the most dangerous watery stools of the patients. In the hospital 
they were careful not to contaminate the food of the high caste 
person by allowing their shadows to fall across it. 

Perhaps it was the example of his sweeper ayah, the little brown 
woman who had been humbly and lovingly ready for service of 
any kind, who seemingly had accepted as a privilege the cleaning 
up after one of the children's "accidents," that had first taught him 
the dignity of making cleanness where there was filth, sweetness 
where there was something repulsive or malodorous. Caste was 
undoubtedly wrong, yet there were certain values in a system that 
made such people feel that theirs was a work that no one else could 
do and that they were born to do it. 

So great was Victor's respect for the age-old culture of the coun¬ 
try that only rarely, as with the incident of the dead monkey, did he 
arouse antagonism in his Hindu friends. But there was one con¬ 
frontation that at least threatened his own peace of mind. Once 
when he walked down to the gate from the verandah, there wait¬ 
ing for him was the chief of police for their whole area of 250,000 
population, an imposing figure in full uniform, resplendent as for a 
ceremonial durbar or a Delhi coronation. The Indian military dress 
prescribed by the British was par excellence—proper buttons, 
bands on shoulders, khaki shorts with knife-sharp creases, and a 
faultlessly wrapped and crimson-bound turban. 

"Good morning. Sahib." There was an ominous overtone in his 
greeting. 

"Anything I can do for you?" inquired Victor cordially. "I was 
just going to our morning worship at the hospital." 

"Yes. I came to inquire whether you know a man called [He gave 
a name]." 

Victor considered. "No. Afraid I don't. What kind of person 
would he be?" 

"Well, he was a blind person, and you operated on him." 

Victor sensed trouble, serious trouble, perhaps, if something 
had been reported to the police. "So?" He began to question 
warily. "And did the man get his sight back?" 

" ]i-han , yes, Doctor Sahib." The answer came with explosive 
scorn. "He got his sight back all right. Very well, indeed. And you 
didn't know who he was? Nobody told you?" 

"No." Victor was more puzzled than ever. "I operate on at least 
twenty people a day. I can't keep track of their names. I look at the 
eye, see what it needs, do what is necessary. Saving sight is my 
job." 

" Ai-oh , I'll tell you who he was! The biggest thief in our district. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


149 


And for three years while he was blind he never stole a thing. You 
gave him back his sight. And now. Doctor Sahib, he's back in jail 
for stealing." 

Victor was aghast. Here they were Christian evangelists, dedi¬ 
cated to saving souls as well as bodies. He could well understand 
the policeman's scorn. For a moment he was speechless. Then 
Victor asked quietly, "Tell me, what do you think? Should I have 
taken out his cataract?" 

Instantly the chief dropped his official manner. " Ji-han , Doctor 
Sahib. Of course. You had no choice any more than I had to arrest 
him. You had to do it." 

So Victor was at peace with the Indian policeman, but not with 
himself. Always there was the frustration of being unable to follow 
up the progress of patients, both physically and spiritually. There 
was never enough staff: doctors, nurses, preaching missionaries, 
and Indian evangelists. People came to the hospital or clinic, were 
recorded by name, examined, treated, operated on, told the story 
of Yesu, and prayed with. They went away, many of them like this 
thief, never to be seen again. Only at such moments as this did 
there seem to be conflict between his two goals, healing and 
evangelism. Would it be better to open fewer blind eyes, as some of 
his superiors advised, and have more time to check on the moral 
and spiritual consequences? For a little while after an experience of 
this sort, he might be uncertain. Then something wonderful would 
happen. He might take the bandages off the eyes of a child who, 
looking up at the stars for the first time in his life, asked, "What are 
those spots in the sky?" He might hear the rice gatherer clap his 
hands when his bandages were removed and exclaim, "I see leaves 
on trees!" or he would watch the light break in the face of a mother 
who, on the third day, begged, "Please, let me see my baby!" and 
saw it for the first time, a lovely, lively, well-nourished child. Then 
all uncertainty was gone. 

And soon, during those years of the early 1940s, Victor was 
plunged into a pioneer project that restructured his whole tech¬ 
nique of service and brought blessing to hundreds of thousands of 
lives. 



8 


T he idea of the "eye camp" had been developing through the 
years as an outgrowth of the expeditions into villages for 
giving injections for yaws and syphilis. Along with the medicines 
for the treatment of sundry ailments and diseases, Victor was soon 
taking his instruments for examining and treating eyes. It was only 
a step from this phase of village work to the undertaking of actual 
surgery. 

It began with a visit from a malguzar, a head man of a village who 
had cataracts and had brought with him to the hospital several of 
his friends who needed the same operation. "When people in my 
village learned that I was coming to the mission hospital," he said 
to Victor, "many wanted to come with me. Like me, they have this 
motia bind so that the eyes become dimmer and dimmer and finally 
they cannot see. I could not bring them all. Doctor Sahib, could you 
not come to us so that all might be healed?" 

Victor was startled into near speechlessness. "I—I only wish we 
could, brother," he replied at last with regret. "How wonderful it 
would be!" 

Wonderful, yes, but of course it was impossible. Transfer the 
whole hospital facilities—surgical equipment, sterilizers, staff, 
and provisions for the extended care of patients—into what might 
be the crude, unsanitary, dust-ridden, fly-infested environment 
that was an Indian village? How shocked his teachers in the spot¬ 
less sterility of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital would be at 
the very idea! But, then, they would have been shocked by the 
simplicity of his own sparse setup as he had found it, with its 
meager surgical equipment, its windows that even when screened 
were subject to winds, dust, and insects, its lack of ceiling, and its 
overbearing heat. And they would have thrown up their sanitized 
hands in horror at his first cataract operation in a village hut, 
instruments boiled at a distance and carried in sterile towels, a 

150 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


151 


thatched verandah for surgery, for spotlight only an ordinary 
flashlight, a string cot on a bare floor for recovery. 

But that first cataract operation in a village had been successful. 
If it could work in one case, why not in two, or a dozen? Impossi¬ 
ble? The great British surgeon. Sir Henry Holland, who had 
founded the work at Quetta, had done mobile eye work from his 
hospital, taking a team once each year to Shikarpur and minister¬ 
ing to a tremendous gathering of people with cataracts and the 
ravages of trachomatous granulated lids. Victor consulted Hira Lai. 

"Brother," he said, "our patient from Lemha, the head man, says 
there are many people in his village with cataract who will not 
leave their homes to come to the hospital. He wants us to go there 
to operate, not on just one but on many at a time. Is the idea 
practical? Is it possible?" 

The Indian's eyes sparkled like the jewel, "diamond precious," 
that his name signified. "Ji-han, yes, Doctor-ji! I have often 
dreamed of such a thing. Possible? Of course. Difficult, yes. But 
with God all things are possible." 

Plans were made. The head man's village, Lemha, was about 
nineteen miles from Mungeli. It was isolated during the muds and 
floods of the rainy season, but now the road to it, if rough wagon 
tracks could be called a road, was passable, at least with an ox cart. 
Victor sent one of his helpers to make the arrangements. The 
village schoolhouse was chosen to serve as the "surgery." Word 
was broadcast through the village that on a certain day all those 
suffering from the motia bind could come to this central place to 
have their eyes examined. 

Preparations were simple. Victor took only two helpers with 
him, a pharmacist and a cook. Hira Lai did not go. The team made 
the nineteen-mile journey in an ox cart, a two-wheeled wooden 
vehicle with solid iron tires, the driver sitting on the center pole 
running from the cart to the yokes of the two oxen, his hard seat 
cushioned by a few folds of sheeting. Progress over the rutted, 
dusty track was limited to about four miles an hour, and the 
journey took nearly six hours. It was late afternoon when they 
arrived in Lemha. Victor was amazed to find a crowd of perhaps 
fifty persons waiting at the schoolhouse. He spent the hours before 
dark examining them, setting aside those who were ready for 
cataract surgery. In the morning he started operating, using the 
teacher's desk for his operating table. That day he removed nine¬ 
teen cataracts, one for every mile he had traveled. 

The patients, eyes bandaged, were settled on mats or charpois in 
the schoolhouse, and a pharmacist with ophthalmologic training 



152 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


was left to make sure they remained completely quiet. He had been 
trained to change dressings and perform other services for the 
patients. Like those in the hospital, they would be fed by members 
of their families, who would also attend to their sanitary needs. 

Victor returned home by the same ox cart. Nineteen operations 
for cataract in one day was a small number compared to his hospi¬ 
tal schedule, but these nineteen were done under conditions that 
would have caused his eminent lecturer in ophthalmology, Dr. de 
Schweinitz, to shudder with professional horror. Had he, Victor, 
been possessed of consummate courage or consummate audacity? 
Suppose the lack of hospital care resulted in infections or cases of 
irrevocable blindness? Just because one such operation in a village 
hut had been successful, could one take it for granted that nineteen 
would be? He waited apprehensively. When the pharmacist sent a 
message that all the patients were resting quietly and seemed to be 
doing well, he was relieved but not wholly assured. 

After nine days Victor returned to Lemha. He removed the 
bandages. In one face after another he saw the dawn of recogni¬ 
tion, of comprehension, of incredulous joy. Vision was not perfect, 
of course. Some might well see "men as trees walking." The 
features of loved ones might be blurred. But at least they could see. 
And for all nineteen the first object glimpsed, however vaguely, 
was the face of the man who had performed the "miracle." Over 
and over Victor tried to divert the outpourings of gratitude and 
adoration. "]i-nahin, no. Do not thank me, brother. It is the Lord 
Yesu who has caused me to give you back your sight. Let us both 
thank Him." 

He had no intimation that history had just been made, that the 
nineteen would be increased by many thousands, that he had set 
in motion a ministry that was to exert its life-giving power not only 
from one end of India to the other but also through many other 
countries of the world. 

News travels fast in India, independent of journals, radio, or 
television; and it was not long before an invitation came from 
another village, this time Panditarai, almost thirty miles away. The 
same procedure was used, but on this trip Victor and his helpers 
traveled by car. Again a large crowd had assembled. Again there 
were the examinations, the operations, the careful attendance by 
the helper, the journey back after nine or ten days over the long 
miles, the removal of bandages, and the wonder of sight for the 
twenty-seven persons who had had surgery. Later these, as well as 
the patients in Lemha, would be fitted as far as possible with 
glasses from the supplies arriving from America. 

Of course there were other eye ailments demanding Victor's 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


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constant attention both in the hospital and in villages, all of them 
exacerbated by poor diet, poor sanitation, poor hygiene, and flies. 
One of these ailments was trachoma, a viral disease that, barring 
infection, was fairly simple to treat even in the years before antibio¬ 
tics and sulfur drugs. But with infection the disease would often be 
followed by painful and destructive intuming lashes. After infec¬ 
tion had reduced the conjunctiva to lumpy scar tissue, the lashes 
would be pulled directly into the conjunctival sac so that they 
would be rubbing the cornea. Misery and gradual or rapid loss of 
vision from the trauma of this rubbing made these sufferers 
wretched, particularly in the hot, dry weather when there was 
sand in the stiff breeze. 

Victor did not find an effective operation for these inturning 
lashes until a copy of Meyer Weiner's book on eye surgery arrived. 
Bless the giver who was inspired to send it! It described a lid 
operation that proved both effective and free of complications. In 
time he was to do several thousand mucous membrane transplan¬ 
tations for these entropion patients before antibiotics introduced 
better methods. It seemed logical. There was loss of tissue. Why 
not give a soft mucous membrane to the eye, a membrane that 
could not develop trachoma and that would act as replacement for 
the rough scar that had contracted the lid and often resulted in 
blindness as well as misery? 

One of the most prevalent ailments and most satisfactory to treat 
was the cornea attacked by vitamin A deficiency. When a child or 
an adult started to show the effects of this deficiency, the first 
change was the "fish scale" cornea, looking somewhat clear but 
not completely so. Next, if no vitamin A was given, came the 
"fingernail" stage, when the whole cornea apparently became 
opaque, threatening necrosis, which meant death of the sensitive 
tissue. The first two stages were reversible. Give a patient, often an 
infant sagging like a sponge in its mother's arms, an injection of 
100,000 units of vitamin A in the afternoon, the next morning you 
would see the child come back marvelously alert, cornea clearing, 
sight largely restored. Nor was anything more heartrending than 
the child that came with necrosis, the cornea gone blind. 

However, if the child given the injection in time went home to 
the same poor diet, without vitamin A or protein, the condition 
would recur. Victor and Louise would send milk from their own 
tables to many such homes, but what a tiny drop in the ocean of 
need. Later would come the donations of dry skim milk from 
overseas. "Thank God and America," Victor would exclaim 
fervently, "for thousands of tons that have come to fight kwashior¬ 
kor and vitamin A deficiency!" 



154 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


The skim milk had all the protein to prevent kwashiorkor, al¬ 
though not much vitamin A. But in India shark liver oil was 
available if it could only be procured and distributed where 
needed. Victor's own children were given ten drops of it each day. 
And if it was necessary for a normal child, how much more neces¬ 
sary it was for one that sat on the floor of a village hut with nothing 
in its bowl but polished rice. 

Satisfying though it was to give such treatments, many of them 
blindness prevention, no joy could compare with the triumph of 
seeing one who had been curably blind from cataract now able to 
see, his life made useful again. Nor could any pain compare with 
that of telling a hopeful patient that nothing could be done. 

"One morning," his son Bill would recall, "I remember going 
over to the hospital, seeing Dad come out on the front steps 
wearing his long white coat, putting his arm around an old lady's 
shoulder, and sitting beside her on the steps while he told her with 
tears in his eyes that he could not cure her blindness but that he did 
know Someone who could give her spiritual sight." 

One spring three barefoot men came to the hospital in single file, 
clad in dusty loincloths, each carrying a few grains of rice in a bag. 
Only one eye out of the six had sight. They were given painstaking 
care. The doctors discovered that they could restore sight to the 
first man. The second, vigorous and in high spirits, had cataracts, 
and Victor was able to operate successfully. The third could not see 
even the glow of a flashlight or tell that the sun was shining except 
when his skin felt warm. 

"My brother," Victor had to tell him, "I am sorry. We cannot help 
you." 

"Oh, yes, you can! Those other two men, you have promised 
them sight." 

Sadly Victor explained why he could do nothing. It was too late. 
The barefoot villager then walked to a side wall, turned his back, 
and chanted in a high, wailing voice an old Indian lament. The 
words echoed mournfully through the compound like a funeral 
dirge: 

O my God, what did I do? 

O my mother, what did I do? 

O my father, what did I do? 

O my God, what did I do? 

Later Victor returned to the hospital, put on his gown and gloves 
for surgery, and there on the operating table was the blind Indian. 
Somehow he had slipped through the crowd and had asked the 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


155 


nurse in charge, hoping against hope, for the surgery. It was agony 
for Victor to take him off the table. 

Yet the joys outnumbered the sorrows. There was the widow, 
blind from cataract, who lived in a village forty miles from 
Mungeli. Her husband and sons had died of cholera. Although 
blind, she eked out a meager living by grinding wheat between two 
stones, for every quart of flour receiving a few tablespoons in pay. 
She saved up a little flour, traded it for rice, tied the rice in a cloth, 
grasped a bamboo stick, and started walking. Three weeks later 
she arrived in Mungeli, led for the last mile by a naked, five-year- 
old boy. Victor was able to restore her sight. 

There was the boy of seven, blind since birth, his father and 
grandfather and uncle also blind with congenital cataracts. At least 
he had been made to see and would be able to start school. There 
was the old man, very feeble, who wanted so much to see again. 
His cataract was a heavy black one called a metabolic cataract. So 
happy was he when it was removed that it seemed to restore his 
health and strength and make him almost young again. There was 
the man who, as his eyes were opened, hugged Victor so hard that 
it seemed one of his ribs must be broken, and said, "I am bom 
again as a baby. How can I thank you?" 

Why were there so many instances of cataract in India, five and a 
half million according to one authority, accounting for 55 percent of 
all cases of blindness? Once Victor and Dayal made a survey of 
seven villages in central India and found that one person in every 
fifty had an operable cataract. What caused its prevalence? It was 
not chiefly senility as in Western countries, for in India it often 
occurred in the thirties or early forties or even younger. Was it 
malnutrition, heredity, disease, or ultraviolet rays? Could it be the 
bombardment of light on unprotected lenses in this land of glaring 
sun? In Thailand, Victor discovered, where from babyhood to old 
age the round hat was worn, preventing the squinting of eyes 
against the glare, there was far less incidence of cataract; and in 
Africa, where there were more trees, there were only about one 
tenth as many instances as in India. There was need for research on 
prevention, yes, but for the millions already blinded prevention 
was impossible. Nothing could restore their sight but surgery. 

As the idea of eye camps took root in Victor's imagination, his 
hopes widened. He dreamed of staggering possiblities. A hundred 
camps—ten thousand blind made to see! A thousand camps— 
one hundred thousand given sight! Why not five million? Was it 
possible? Hira Lai had given the answer to that. 

''Ji-han, yes, Doctor ji! With God all things are possible." 




156 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


The eve camp was an idea whose time had come, and in the early 
years of the forties it came to full fruition. The first official camp 
was held in March 1943 at Kawardha, a native state under British 
suzerainty about forty-five miles from Mungeli. An invitation 
came from the rajah. Unlike the first impromptu experiments in 
villages, it was an orderly, well-planned expedition. Preparations 
were methodical, the staff was kept as minimal as possible, yet 
everything was bent on perfection. Suman Choudharie, alv ^ a Y s 
efficient, was in charge of the nursing. Out of the adjacent hills 
people came in vast numbers, many who had been sightless for 


' This time there was a real hospital for surgery. It was small, with 
perhaps six or eight beds, but it was clean and adequately 
equipped. The rajah had done more for his people than control 
them from his big palace. He was so interested in the procedure 
that they put a hospital gown on him and let him watch. e 
operation was simplicity itself. At that time Victor was using on y 

one stitch and getting very fine results. .... . , • 

"I could do that!" exclaimed the rajah excitedly after watching 
several operations. "Let me scrub up and help you," It took all of 
Victor's tact to dissuade him. It was interesting to see his eagerness 

to become a doctor. , 

Ninety-six operations were performed, most of them tor 
cataract. The patients were placed for recovery in the few hospital 
beds on mats on the floor and verandah, in adjoining houses of 
the town, or in tents. Some of the rajah's family were taken by 

stretcher to the palace. ...... 

There was only one failure in all ninety-six cases, a patient with 
bilateral cataract who had expulsive hemorrhage in both eyes, t 
was unpreventable but catastrophic for Victor. Thirty ve years 
later, tears would still come to his eyes at the memory. Every one 
else had perfect healing, and all but one were given cataract glas¬ 
ses, mostly plus tens made from Belgian plate glass. 

This was only the beginning. During the next quarter century' 
some one hundred fifty eye camps would be held by teams travel¬ 
ing from the Mungeli hospital into at least twenty-five villages, 
many up to a hundred miles away. They would go by ox cart, by 
car, by bicycle, by bus, and by train. The list of villages would have 
furnished a geographical roster of the whole surrounding area and 
even beyond—Lormi, Takhatpur, Khuna, Pandanya Pandatarai, 
Kunda, Patharia, Kodwa, Sambhalpur, Amarkantak, Shahdol, 

Khodri, Simga, and a dozen others. 

After Kawardha, the team had all the equipment necessary for 
fine ophthalmology. There was a slit-lamp microscope, a small 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


157 


perimeter complete with colored pins for designating visual fields, 
signals with red and white targets, and blacks for larger fields. At 
first instruments were taken from the operating room at the hospi¬ 
tal, but later enough were secured so that those used on trips were 
kept in a mobile eye camp box. The arrangement for sterile cotton, 
when they did not know whether they would be doing twenty 
operations or sixty or a hundred, was surprisingly successful, 
especially after a pressure cooker was obtained. When there were 
not enough pads and gauze and those wonderful swab sticks with 
absorbent cotton tips, they could make them up right in the village 
and sterilize them twice, just as in the autoclave. It meant that 
always, whether in hospital or village, they could use the no-touch 
technique. 

Camps could be held only during the winter months, not in the 
monsoons, and not in the 120 degree heat of April to June—say 
from October to March. Even in this period, January and February 
were often prohibitive because so many patients came to the hospi¬ 
tal that the staff found it difficult to leave Mungeli. 

They were held in all sorts of shelters: a church; a schoolhouse; a 
verandah; a government rest house; a dharam shala, a mercy house 
built by a Hindu grateful for or wanting God's help; even once in a 
Hindu temple. Thanks to the Rambo Committee, Victor had 
brought back from furlough a Chevy "Suburban Commercial" for 
village work, and it proved ideal for transporting the team and 
necessary equipment. 

A regular plan of action was developed. First, perhaps a week 
before the camp, a messenger would be sent out to the villages 
surrounding the place where the camp was to be held. "Come," 
invited this "teller of good news," announcing the time and place, 
"all you who suffer from the motia, all you who have trouble in the 
eyes. Come, mothers, fathers, children, all of you. The Doctor 
Sahib is coming, he who makes the blind to see." 

Just so another "teller of good news" centuries ago, traveling 
through other oriental villages, had given another invitation, "Ho, 
everyone who is athirst, come to the waters. Come, without 
money and without price." 

Arriving in the village, the team would set to work immediately, 
examining the assembled patients, listing those needing surgery. If 
there was time, operations would be done the same day, but 
usually there were too many people to examine. All essential 
procedures were followed as in the hospital—sterilizing of in¬ 
struments and solutions, preparation of the patient's eye, and 
prayer for God's blessing. Sterilization at first was by boiling, later 
by use of a pressure cooker. 



158 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


At first the numbers of cases were small, perhaps fifteen to 
forty-five cataracts, one or two glaucomas, and a few with 
trichiasis from healing of granulations of trachoma. But numbers 
increased rapidly to fifty, sixty, and even a hundred in a single 
camp. All were cared for, even if work continued far into the night. 

Because eye camps often took place during their winter vacation, 
Victor took the children with him whenever possible, and fre¬ 
quently they helped in the operating area. On one occasion at 
Kawardha, Bill, not called on to help, was wandering around the 
village when an Indian woman came rushing out of a house. 

"You must be Rambo Sahib's son," she greeted happily. "Your 
father saved my life some years ago. Come! You must come into 
our house and eat." Bill joined the family for a meal of delicious rice 
and curry and spent much time in their home during the camp. 

It was on another trip, this time into the jungle perhaps thirty 
miles from Mungeli, that an incident occurred that Bill would 
always remember. He had a new hammock he wanted to use, and 
he strung it between two trees at the edge of a clearing. Victor and 
the rest of the team were housed in a villager's little hut nearby. Bill 
woke in the very early morning hours, before dawn, and saw his 
father standing by the hammock, doubtless come to check on his 
safety, then kneeling in prayer for a long time before returning to 
the hut. The children might be embarrassed sometimes at his 
praying at any time and in any place, occasionally, it seemed, to 
attract attention rather than for need of prayer; but every one of 
them would remember with deepest gratitude the many times they 
had been conscious of his kneeling in the night beside their beds. 

Victor had a concern for all children, not just his own. "I re¬ 
member my father saying hello to the children of India," Barbara 
was to write long afterward. "The little ones running around a 
village, some with nothing on, some with a little shirt. He would 
take them by the hand, make a face or joke with them. To some he 
would say, 'How are you, sir?' They loved to follow him wherever 
he went. His recognition that they were very important was a 
witness to the love of Christ. I have never seen other missionaries 
act as he did toward little children. He loved them and acted it out. 
He gave them a vision of what they might become and an assur¬ 
ance that God loved them." 

The mission board did not wholly approve of the eye camps; 
how many conversions resulted from these fly-by-night sallies into 
distant villages? Not a one that anybody had discovered. "A Paul," 
one colleague described Victor, "who had to earn his living and 
spend 98 percent of his time in an auxiliary of missions." There 
were preaching tours; they were customary and understandable. 





APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


159 


But the eye camps were another one of Victor's innovative ideas 
carried out without the board's full support. He always managed 
to get more than enough money to implement them, money that 
could well have been used for more-orthodox enterprises. Perhaps 
what made the board most uneasy was his genius for the unex¬ 
pected, the unpredictable. They never knew what he would be up 
to next. 

However, an incident occurred that changed the mind of one 
mission official, at least about eye camps. There was a village in the 
Mungeli area in which a group of new Christians was experienc¬ 
ing much persecution. The members had been beaten, their 
fields taken away, their trees cut down and their women insult¬ 
ed. Th emalguzar (head man) was determined to wipe out the little 
church. One day Donald McGavran was talking with this head 
man. 

"Why don't you ask Dr. Rambo to bring one of his eye camps 
here," he suggested, "and then send out messengers to the 
hundred neighboring villages to send in their blind?" 

" Achchha! A good idea!" The malguzar, an opportunist, recog¬ 
nized an opportunity to raise his status with both government and 
public. "Will you convey the invitation to Rambo Sahib?" 

Victor accepted gladly. He and his team were met at the village 
boundary and garlanded. They operated in one of the head man's 
own buildings, the fifty patients being laid out for postoperative 
care in his stable on stacks of straw. Victor left the village that night, 
leaving a nurse to care for the patients. When he returned on the 
tenth day and removed the bandages, fifty people walked out with 
their sight restored. The malguzar's own eyes were opened. There 
was no further persecution of Christians in his village. 

It was during these A. T. (After Tom) years that a young doctor 
who was destined to become one of the most successful ophthal¬ 
mologic surgeons in the world came to Mungeli. 

"I have finished my medical studies," wrote John Coapullai, son 
of a Christian in government service farther south in Central Prov¬ 
inces, "and I want to specialize in eyes. May I come to you as an 
intern?" 

John came in the early 1940s. Victor was able to give him a living 
salary, with board, room, and laundry. He proved to be a kindly, 
witnessing, energetic person, if a trifle impulsive. Victor could 
sympathize with that quality. But when the new intern attempted 
his first cataract operations, he despaired. His arms and hands 
were in the wrong position, and his fingers were unsure. Every 
line of his body expressed uncertainty. 

"Look here, son," Victor said patiently, "you want to do 



160 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


ophthalmologic surgery. You've got to hold your hands parallel, 
not stretched out like wings. Get your hand balance so that you 
hold fine instruments with only your fine muscles being used in 
manipulating the quarter of a millimeter necessary to do the 
work." 

Reaching around the young man's body, Victor took his hands 
and literally used them to perform the operation. "See," he ex¬ 
plained, "make sure the extensor and flexor are balanced here. 
Keep your elbows close to your body." In subsequent weeks and 
months, the hands grew skilled and confident. During the years 
Victor was to use the same technique with others he trained. And 
by this time monkeys, although considered sacred by the Indians, 
had become so many and destructive that sensible people around 
Mungeli kept their eyes closed when some disappeared, and Victor 
was able to obtain quite a few specimens for John Coapullai and 
others to practice on. 

John remained in Mungeli about two years. But, like Victor, he 
had a dream of helping village people. He accepted a post where 
the need was even greater, at a Baptist hospital in Sompeta, 5 miles 
from the east coast on the Bay of Bengal and 150 miles from any 
center specifically treating eyes. During the next thirty years he 
was to develop one of the finest eye hospitals in India. 

"We can't get enough funds to help the poor," he once wrote 
Victor. Victor wrote to his Rambo Committee for help and the 
committee gave funds so that John could supply help free of 
charge. It also gave him a transport vehicle and many fine tools, 
including a slit-lamp microscope for examination of the interior of 
the eye. "A beautiful thing," Victor said in describing it, "giving 
the surgeon the assurance of support." Without it, like himself for 
many years, the surgeon must use a flashlight. With it, plus the 
ophthalmoscope for detecting disease and the retinascope and trial 
case instruments to give prescriptions for glasses, the eye surgeon 
had all his essential equipment. 

Once more Victor waited impatiently but with even greater 
anticipation for the return of Dayal Sukhnandan from his medical 
study. The reports he received of Dayal's progress were more than 
satisfying. 

"Dr. Rambo," wrote Mr. Hatfield, superintendent of the Penn¬ 
sylvania Hospital, "we are amazed at how much Dr. Sukhnandan's 
patients love him." 

His performance in surgery there was outstanding. Many of the 
staff were overseas in medical units, and he had been given not 
only unusual learning opportunities but also chances to demon¬ 
strate many cases to medical students. In surgical pathology, he 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


161 


had been given the complete job of autopsy and following through 
on sections of every organ. One patient was being treated in the 
medical w r ards that no one could diagnose. No sooner had Dayal 
seen the case than he realized at once that it was leprosy. He also 
won the hearts of people in the churches in which he spoke, and he 
gave an outstanding performance in international friendship that 
opened the way for Dr. Philip James and over a score of Indian 
nurses to go for special training in the States. 

Dayal was given an opportunity to remain and graduate from an 
American medical school, but once again, as when leaving Miraj, 
he made the choice for Mungeli. Harry Tiedeck, who had been 
chairman of the Rambo Committee almost from its beginning, took 
him to the airport and saw* him off for India, via South America and 
South Africa, for it was still wartime. 

At last the w r ar came really close to the Rambos. In January 1944, 
Louise w r ent with Birch to Bombay to see him off with three of his 
Kodai classmates for military service in America. The boys had a 
day for sightseeing, ending in frenzied finance as they tried to 
figure out who ow’ed w T hom and how much; then very early the 
next morning they w T ent to the docks, where there w T as tight secu¬ 
rity, relatives not being allowed beyond the entrance gates. Birch 
and his friends revealed no other emotion than adventurous ex¬ 
citement; not so Louise. It was the second break in family, and this 
time there might really be danger involved. Nevertheless, she 
accepted his going as being right. Birch reached Philadelphia in 
time to enter the second semester at Franklin and Marshall College 
at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the naval officer program. 

As the war drew toward its end, Victor took time off from his 
w T ork, visiting a dozen places, trying to find someone with the 
authority to release the tremendous mass of equipment that w’ould 
be left in India. In Calcutta, Agra, Delhi, and Andhra he was 
treated w r ith a tired but firm no. He w T as told that not a single 
instrument, piece of equipment, or vehicle w T as going to be left 
behind wTien the Western troops left. He needed a portable X-ray 
machine and one of those wonderful optical vehicles that w*ould 
grind lenses and edges. He needed several operating tables, surgi¬ 
cal instruments, cabinets, electric light wdre, and small and large 
generators. What did he not need? He got nothing, either by 
purchase or by gift. Exasperated, he returned to Mungeli. Later on, 
in some of the junkyards of Calcutta, he picked up equipment that 
had been left out in the rains and w’as practically useless. He heard 
a rumor that two hundred thousand pairs of dark glasses had been 
put under bulldozers in the jungle and destroyed. 

In spite of the hospital's lack of facilities and its remoteness. 



162 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


thirty-four miles from the railroad and a difficult journey from 
Madras, a surprising number of people sought it out in preference 
to institutions of much higher reputation. One was a Mr. Haldor, a 
Swiss. After retirement in Switzerland, he came to Victor to have 
his cataract removed. Louise gave him the guest room in the 
bungalow, and he was a member of the household during surgery 
and convalescence. 

"Why did you come away out here?" Victor asked him curiously. 
"You have so many doctors, good ones, so much closer. In fact, you 
could have gone anywhere in Europe." 

Mr. Haldor explained. He had had trouble with his other eye and 
was apprehensive about the results of surgery on this one. "I came 
to you because I have heard of all the work you have done," he 
said, "and because you pray." 

Victor operated and, of course, prayed. Three weeks later the 
patient left with his prescription for glasses. Months afterward, 
Victor saw him in Madras. His glasses were still effective, his vision 
better than normal. He went back to Switzerland and settled. Years 
later a Swiss physician, Dr. Rickenback, came to India and worked 
with Victor, then returned home to practice in Lucerne. Who 
should come to him one day for a checkup on his prescription but 
this same Mr. Haldor. 

"I had my eye operated on in India," Haldor told the doctor. 

"I know," returned the physician with a smile. "And I know who 
operated on you. I can tell by looking at your eye. It was done by 
Dr. Rambo." 

During all the years of his long mission in India, Victor marched 
to the tune of two trumpets, each one sounding reveille to action 
with two goals—new sight for the curable blind and new lives 
committed to his Master, Jesus Christ. Usually the two were in 
harmony and often sounding the same note. He might organize a 
team to go out into a village in the evening on an evangelistic tour, 
but invariably after his short but poignant sermon, spoken in the 
villagers' colloquial Hindi, he would be examining eyes, assem¬ 
bling patients to take back with him to the hospital. And never was 
a patient treated without being told in some way that God was 
concerned with his welfare. 

Even in his casual meetings Victor managed to deliver a sort of 
"mini-sermon." He noted that some of the castes greeted each 
other with a little phrase that indicated the person's identity as a 
member of the group. So for many years, when he greeted people 
he would say in Hindi something like "God is love," "Jesus is your 
friend," or "God loves you." 

In many ways he was far more Indian than American. His habit 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


163 


of vocal prayer that often embarrassed his children and others was 
wholly in accord with the customs of his adopted country. "When a 
person prays in India," he once observed, "other people know it. 
They do things that show they are praying. When people mumble 
as they pray, does it mean anything to the observer?" It meant 
something when Victor prayed. Like the Hindu crawling for miles 
on his knees or smearing his bare body with ashes or endlessly 
intoning the name of Ram, he showed, not just avowed, his com¬ 
munion with God. People might not remember his words, but they 
would not forget his kneeling in the dust, giving thanks for their 
healing; his lifted arms wishing Jesus a happy birthday; his stop¬ 
ping in the middle of a street to discuss with God the problems of a 
complete stranger. 

So insistent were the trumpet calls that Victor would have be¬ 
grudged the time spent on furloughs if they had not furthered 
progress toward the two goals, giving opportunity for more medi¬ 
cal study and experience and for arousing support for his work. 

Because of the war, eight years had passed since their last fur¬ 
lough. Even in 1945 it was next to impossible for a missionary to get 
transportion to America. They were told that there were two 
hundred people waiting in Bombay for transportation. But it was 
time for them to go. Victor's mother, Kate, had died two years 
before in Claremont, and he wanted to get home. Helen was 
waiting and needed them. They packed up and, going to Bombay, 
settled into lodgings under the care of the Methodist church. Then 
suddenly came a telephone message. "Come down to the Ameri¬ 
can Express office immediately. The transport will leave tomorrow. 
You must be on board at nine o'clock. And there must be absolutely 
no mention of your going." 

By hurrying they were at the dock on time. There was an im¬ 
pressive ship, the Admiral Benson, with hundreds of servicemen 
looking down over the side. Then as they were feeling very small 
and unimportant, from the lines on the deck came a high-pitched 
shout, "Hi, Rambos!" It was Bill, one of the soldiers who had been 
in their home in Mungeli. They would have a friend on board! 
Although they were quartered in a different part of the ship, their 
own Bill was able to see him a few times. 

As civilians they were in officers' quarters, eighteen to a cabin, 
Louise, Barbara, and Tommy in one for women and children, 
Victor and Bill in a men's cabin nearby. It was hard to explain their 
good fortune. Most of the hundreds waiting on shore did not leave 
until the Gripsholm came some time later. 

Before long Victor had darkened a room where the men could 
have their eyes examined (easy enough, for there was always 



164 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


blackout in the evening). One young solder said to him, "Would 
you like to look at my eyes? The doctor says I have a fundus like a 
rabbit." Sure enough, there were the myelin fibers that had come 
through and spread brushlike over the retina from the optic nerve. 

"God did a wonderful job on your eyes," Victor told him. "There 
are a few nerve fibers that have come out of the nerve and brought 
along with them the white insulating material, but your vision is 
perfect. The rabbit does have a fundus like yours, but his is a much 
more extensive white. Thank you for letting me look at your eyes." 

"Thank you for looking," returned the soldier. "Do you work on 
eyes all the time?" 

"Yes. There are millions of eyes that need attention in India and 
few doctors to attend to them. I have a fine team to care for the sick, 
I mean Christ has, for it's His job we're doing." Here had been 
another opportunity to witness. 

Where were they going? They had no idea until someone said, 
"To a land that has kangaroos." In Australia they were delayed for 
days in the Charles River of Brisbane but not allowed to go ashore. 
The irate officer in charge of civilians even stopped the boys from 
fishing for catfish in the river, although the ship's cook was kind 
about cooking their catch. "Let me go down," begged Victor, "and 
just put my foot on Australian soil. I'll not run away." 

"Sorry, sir," was the curt answer. 

They went on through the Pacific. News came that President 
Roosevelt had died, and the chaplain led the ship at dress services. 
At one point there was gunnery practice, with a target trailed and 
shot at from all parts of the heavily armed vessel. They were 
panicked upon discovering that Tommy was missing, until they 
found that he had been taken by the sailors into the front turret to 
see the sight and enjoy the sounds of the fast antiaircraft gunnery, 
experiencing thrills he would never forget. 

In San Diego they were met by Red Cross workers, who were 
expecting refugees from the Philippines. They had enormous 
supplies of milk in quart cartons, which they urged the Rambos to 
drink and take with them to the hotel. The family had forgotten 
how good American whole, pasteurized milk could taste. 

Louise's greatest joy in the furlough was in reunion with her 
mother and the children; Helen, who graduated that year from 
Wilson College and started work as a laboratory technician in 
Baltimore; and Birch, who was still in officer's training at Franklin 
and Marshall College. Before the furlough ended they saw Helen 
married to Wesley P. Walters, a young minister. 

Victor's activities were momentous for the future, for profound 
changes were imminent in his medical career. Before leaving India 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


165 


he had been asked by Dr. Robert Cochrane, the world famous 
leprologist, to become head of the department of ophthalmology at 
Vellore Christian Medical College and Hospital, the great interna¬ 
tional and interdenominational institution founded by Dr. Ida 
Scudder. Dr. Cochrane had left his work in leprosy to become 
director of the medical college, which was trying desperately to 
upgrade its curriculum to comply with the new regulations of the 
Indian government. In spite of his fellowship in the American 
College of Surgeons, Victor was not sure that he had the necessary 
training in ophthalmology for such a position. Immediately on 
reaching Philadelphia he planned, with Dr. Edmund Spaeth, a 
leading ophthalmologist and loyal supporter of Victor's work, his 
preparation for taking the American Board of Ophthalmology 
examination. That preparation meant clinic and operating room 
attendance at Wills Eye Hospital and dissection at Temple Univer¬ 
sity. It was a revealing three months' experience. At Wills he got 
countless opportunities for practice in Western cataract surgery, 
and at Temple he had a course in dissection that greatly increased 
his knowledge of the anatomy of the eye. For pathology he went to 
Washington and studied with Dr. Helena Wilder and her staff. The 
examinations of the board were held in San Francisco, and while 
on the West Coast he was able to visit briefly with his brothers, 
Philip, who lived there in the city, and Huber in Portland. He was 
as jittery as a college freshman until he learned he had passed. 

Much of his time and energy, of course, were expended in 
arousing support for the work in Mungeli. Plans were being made 
for making the hospital the best village medical institution in India. 
The Rambo Committee interested Mr. John Frazer in publishing a 
pamphlet titled The Greatest Unrelieved Tragedy in the World. 

"Night comes to village India without hurrying," the text began. 
"At sunset the temple bells ring. People start homeward—a man 
driving a bullock, a cowherd playing a flute, a woman wrapped in a 
lotus-bordered sari. 

"Smoke curls outside the mud-plastered huts. Sleeping bodies 
soon will lie pithless on bed or mat or bare ground. . . . 

"But tomorrow it will still be dark for ten million people of India. 

"And tomorrow, and tomorrow. 

"For it is the literal and hardly-to-be-grasped truth that 
10,000,000 men, women and children of India are totally blind. 
And for every person blind, three are partially blind." 

The pamphlet brought results. A gift came from the Teachout 
Foundation, enough money to obtain two Dodge panel vans that 
were made into the best possible transportation for operating 
teams. Both went to Mungeli under the Indo-American Agree- 



166 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


ment, each with a trailer in which could be carried all the material 
that would not require the complete dustproofing necessary for the 
eye camps. Another "wondhap" was a chapel given by Dr. Walter 
S. Priest of Chicago in honor of his father and mother. Pastor and 
Mrs. Walter Scott Priest of Wichita, who had so influenced Victor in 
his student days. 

During Dayal Sukhnandan's study in America, he had become 
acquainted with a Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bunell of Cleveland and 
interested them in making donations for the hospital. Their gifts 
made possible the Bunell Eye Ward, a powerhouse for electrical 
installations, a system of running water, and a storage tank for rain 
water to provide soft water for the sterilization of instruments. The 
electrical equipment prepared the way for the much needed diag¬ 
nostic X-ray machine. Victor talked of this need and others where¬ 
ver he went, and, as always, his vision was unbounded, his re¬ 
quests tremendous. He was looking for a source of radioactive 
strontium 90 and was trying to raise funds to the astronomical sum 
of ten thousand dollars. (This was eventually donated by Mrs. 
G.G. Watermull of the Watermull Foundation.) When Birch dis¬ 
covered that his father has been purchasing radioactive isotopes at 
high prices, he was a bit shocked. "Why not wait three or four 
years?" he suggested. "They are sure to come down in price." 

His father turned on him. "Shut your eyes," he said, the quiet¬ 
ness of his voice belied by the furious intensity of his gaze. "Shut 
them for ten minutes and walk around the house and get the sense 
of how a blind person feels. Then suggest to me again that I wait 
three or four years until prices come down." 

Victor continued to have differences with his board. A mission¬ 
ary was supposed to raise money for the whole mission, not just 
his own work. In turn, Victor resented the fact that money he had 
secured for some special purpose was applied to other mission 
stations. Years later Birch was to encounter one of the mission 
executives. "I never met a greater missionary than your father," 
this man said to him, "or one harder to get along with." 

By this time Birch himself, having had experience, could under¬ 
stand his father's impatience with all such governing bureaucrats. 
The human needs were so great and the opportunities so urgent 
that a person had to take action in order to live with his Christian 
conscience. But he could understand the board's feeling also, for 
none knew better than his children that Victor was a difficult man 
to live with. It was like trying to run alongside a rushing locomo¬ 
tive. 

Of course Victor hoped that all three of his sons would become 
doctors, preferably ophthalmologists, but he tried not to influence 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


167 


them. It was less his dominant personality than the insistence of 
others that caused them to rebel at an early age. When they trav¬ 
eled with Mother and Dad in the churches, it seemed that some 
little old lady was always coming up to them and saying sweetly, 
"Well, little man, are you going to be a medical missionary like your 
dear father?" Naturally it was the last thing any of them wanted to 
do. 

Victor was of course delighted when Birch, released from the 
Navy in 1946, completed his work at Bethany College and decided 
to study medicine. His highest hopes would be fulfilled when both 
Birch and Bill graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Med¬ 
ical School, except that neither one of them planned to become an 
ophthalmologist. 

Victor's plea for a diagnostic X-ray unit was answered by Mrs. 
Jane Brumaghim of the Rambo Committee, a member of Third 
Christian Church in Philadelphia, who organized a bold campaign 
and raised the money for it. It was installed later in memory of 
Victor's father and mother, along with quarters for a doctor. Other 
gifts would make possible a store of 210 milligrams of radium in 
needles, a boon for cancer patients who had had to travel hundreds 
of miles to Calcutta or some other center, the few that went at all. 
And with the coming of the X-ray machine, there was no more 
need to send emergency cases the long miles to Bilaspur, where the 
only machine available was in the government hospital. 

In the University of Pennsylvania Hospital was Benjamin West's 
mural of Christ healing the sick, the mural that had so inspired 
Victor during his student days. Seeing it again, he thought. If only 
we had one like it in Mungeli! He spoke about it in many of his visits to 
churches during this furlough. Mrs. Bessie Williams, a teacher of 
art in Chicago, heard him speak. "If you could get a Kodachrome of 
it," she told him, "I would like to make you a copy/' 

Victor was overjoyed. Tom, Louise's brother, was a fine photo¬ 
grapher. He went down to the hospital and took a picture. The 
artist made a copy almost the size of the original, composed on 
several sections of heavy masonite board. The project was financed 
by Keith Kindred, son of one of Victor's staunchest supporters. 
Pastor C. G. Kindred, for nearly fifty years pastor of the 
Englewood Christian Church in Chicago. When the family left 
December 12, 1946, on the Dutch ship Tarakan, the picture went 
with them, the best Christmas gift Victor could have taken back to 
his beloved hospital. 

He played Santa Claus in a more literal sense on the ship. 
Observing Christmas on the high seas, the company arranged a 
celebration with a chimney so fixed that Saint Nick could enter 



168 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


according to tradition. Victor, always in the forefront of every 
activity and if possible the chief actor, was chosen to play the part. 
Everybody assembled. They were told that Santa Claus was going 
to visit. Several toots sounded on the ship's horn; then the big horn 
blasted, and loud footsteps were heard across the hatch just above. 
Down came the robust Santa with a huge bag of toys. So real did 
Victor appear in the suit provided by the management that when 
Tom went forward to get his gift, he could not tell that it was his 
own father. Only when Santa Claus concluded his act with a bout 
of impromptu jigging that convulsed the audience was his identity 
revealed to the entranced six-year-old. 

Back in Mungeli, they moved into the Big Bungalow across the 
road from the hospital, the "Doctor's Bungalow" being already 
occupied. Cheerfully Louise adjusted to the change. Like most old 
bungalows, it had more than human occupation. She was glad of 
the little gackos, lizards that ran around the walls and ceilings, 
disposing of mosquitoes; also of the shrews, or squeakers, that fed 
on insects, roaches, and other pests. But rats and mice were an¬ 
other matter, and she had to declare war on them. Because the 
house had been used for storing grain, it had a large rat population, 
and for about a month they were catching in traps at least one rat 
per night and often several. They never did completely evict the 
undesirable tenants. 

But it was a period of transition. There would come a time soon 
when no bungalow in Mungeli, when Mungeli itself, would no 
longer be called home. Already that year Victor was spending three 
months, the teaching part of the year, at his new position in 
Vellore. Finally he had the teaching job that he had wanted so long. 
He had no doubt about the rightness of the change. It was time to 
leave the work in the capable hands of Dayal Sukhnandan, Chris¬ 
topher Deen, and the other efficient staff members he had trained. 
It was the missionary's job to find a work to do, do it, prepare 
others to take it over, and then leave it: sow, cultivate, let others 
reap. As always, with any major move he had made in his life, he 
felt a guiding Hand. 



9 


I t was a new world. India in 1947 was an awakening giant, casting 
off the shackles of four centuries of foreign occupation and, it 
was to be hoped, bursting the chains of such age-old burdens as 
disease, poverty, illiteracy, and starvation. And nowhere in the 
country were the hopes more visible than in the Christian Medical 
College and Hospital in Vellore, south India. In 1941 its indomitable 
founder, Dr. Ida Scudder, in her seventies, had started a four-year 
trek across the United States in a campaign for her third million 
dollars to save her beloved college from annihilation; at the same 
time in India, Dr. Robert Cochrane, the interim director, had been 
scouring the world for doctors, professors, and scientists with the 
necessary degrees to meet the new government requirements for 
university status. 

Victor, the new professor of ophthalmology, was one of his 
recruits. They had long been friends, Victor often stopping on his 
way to Kodai to visit the leprosarium in Chingleput, where Dr. 
Cochrane, foremost leprologist in the world, had taught him much 
about leprosy as it related to eyes. They were kindred spirits, each 
with an obsessive dedication to his chosen task, and Cochrane had 
applied to this service for Vellore the same "Get there, brother" 
vigor with which he drove his car. Between Ranipet and Vellore, 
the road passed through an archway so narrow that there was 
room for only one car, slowing most travelers to twelve miles an 
hour. Bob Cochrane had the reputation of negotiating it at fifty. His 
task of upgrading finished, he returned to his leprosy work soon 
after Victor arrived, yielding his post of director and principal to a 
remarkable Indian woman. Dr. Hilda Lazarus, former chief medi¬ 
cal officer of the women's branch of the Indian Medical Service, 
with the rank of lieutenant colonel. 

Victor was to spend about six months of each year teaching in 
Vellore, the rest in Mungeli. He plunged into a surging flood of 
new life and activity. Compared with Mungeli, Vellore was a giant 

169 


170 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


beside a pygmy. Instead of a small town, it was a teeming, sprawl¬ 
ing city. Instead of a growing but modest hospital, there was a vast 
medical complex constantly expanding into new buildings, new 
wards, new classrooms, new blocks, and new departments—a 
huge hospital down in the bazaar section of the city, a medical 
college four miles away in a mountain-girt valley, and in between 
them little Schell Hospital, where Dr. Ida had started her work in 
1902. Schell Hospital had since become the eye department of the 
institution. 

It was a time of new birth, for the college and hospital as well 
as the nation. Victor was there when in July the first ten men stu¬ 
dents were admitted to an institution devoted to training Indian 
women. He was there on August 15 when India became an in¬ 
dependent republic, a day of rejoicing although accompanied, 
like most births, by bitter travail and bloodshed because of a 
divided country. 

"]ai Hind! }ai Hind! Victory to India!" Victor joined with students, 
faculty, and the motley city crowds—Hindus, Muslims, 
Christians—in the triumphant salute to the brave tricolor flag, 
green and white and orange, greeting the dawn of this new day of 
freedom. And with even greater zest he plunged into the task of 
training young medical students to make some of the hopes of the 
young nation come true. 

Victor was technically the head of the eye department, but Dr. S. 
Gurubatham, a fine ophthalmologist (although he lacked the de¬ 
grees needed to satisfy university requirements), continued as 
acting head until he was drafted for a government post in Madras. 
Then Victor took over full responsibility. Here, as in Mungeli, one 
of his prime objectives was the training of young Indians to assume 
leadership posts, the first one being Dr. Roy Ebenezer, who, thanks 
to the Rambo Committee, was sent to London and Vienna for 
graduate work. Many others would follow. 

The world of Vellore was permeated by the personality of its 
creator. Dr. Ida, "Aunt Ida" as she was now called by students and 
faculty. Although she had retired officially to her mountain eyrie at 
Kodaikanal at age seventy-six, "retirement" was hardly the name 
to characterize her life in those days of great activity. She often 
returned to her old quarters in the Big Bungalow, and now, at 
seventy-eight, nearly a half century after she had set this huge 
healing mechanism in motion, she was almost as tirelessly vigor¬ 
ous, fully as radiantly enthusiastic, as when at fifty she had begun 
the formidable task of training women doctors; at sixty had trav¬ 
eled five hundred miles on foot in the mountains of Kashmir; and 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


171 


at seventy had begun an incredible battle to save her life's great 
purpose. At eighty she would still be smashing tennis balls across 
the net, having played a championship game all her life; and at 
eighty-five she would be riding an elephant through the jungles of 
Mysore, looking for wild animals. 

Fellowship with Dr. Ida was one of the greatest blessings in 
Victor's new life. She would often drop into Schell Hospital and 
watch, comment, rejoice in every modern improvement, but— 
extraordinary for one who had been all her life a leader, some 
would say a dictator—never criticize. She would meet the old 
nurse, Sobidham, and tell of the days when Sobidham had been 
her total nursing staff. She would tell how she had first done 
cataract operations and exult in the new methods and skills. Al¬ 
ways she would recount how much God had done, was doing, and 
would do for this work that He, not she, had accomplished 
through the years. 

It had long been Victor's desire to teach, and he entered his new 
labor of love with all the zest of an enthusiast. His classes included 
both undergraduate and graduate medical and nursing students. 
Indian education had a strong tendency toward theory and book 
learning, and he tried to overcome this by giving every possible 
opportunity for experimental work. Instead of undergraduates 
just memorizing the names of eye instruments, they operated on 
animals' eyes, bought from the butcher. They did iridectomies and 
took out "cataracts." They did trephining for glaucoma. 

His methods were not conventional, and he abhorred mere 
lecturing. His genial and breezy approach attracted students, and 
they were intrigued by his informality. In his classes one never 
knew what to expect. To illustrate a lesson in humility, he might 
climb up on his desk and, before descending, perform a little jig. 
He made himself the personal friend of every student. He man¬ 
aged to stress certain points of importance in such a way that no 
student would ever forget them. 

"A dirty lens," he would reiterate, "is an abomination to 
ophthalmology." 

Or, quoting from his teacher. Dr. John B. Deaver, an eminent 
surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, and using the 
same intonations and gestures he would say: "A surgeon should 
have the eye of an eagle [raising his voice a little], the touch of a 
woman [speaking tenderly], the courage of a lion, and [then, 
shouting and hitting the desk in front of him with a wallop] the 
constitution of a mule." 

"When the canal of schlemm gets slim you get glaucoma." 



172 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


"Ophthalmology is the only subject where you can stare at the 
face of your neighbor's wife and escape punishment" (a sample of 
his humor). 

Yet certain features of his teaching could be called superconven- 
tional. 

"We were all taught like small children in the nursery," remem¬ 
bered Victor Choudharie, who had come from Mungeli to study 
medicine. "For all the difficult technical words, we had to shout the 
spellings together aloud. Being from Mungeli, I was expected to 
know all the spellings of words like Pterigium, Pinguecula, and 
Phlyctenular Conjunctivitis, and had to lead the class in shouting 
the spellings behind me. But it was all fun, and nobody has ever 
forgotten them." 

"We loved seeing his cheerful, lively face," commented another 
of his students, Malathi Chinnappa, many years later. "All his 
lectures were packed with humorous anecdotes and rhymes relat¬ 
ing to every aspect of ophthalmology. How well I remember his 
lecture on trachoma, and when I am again confronted with this 
problem in western Australia, what he taught me comes vividly 
back to my mind." 

Victor was surprised and delighted to find in one of his classes 
Mary Ali, his first Caesarean baby, brought into the world some 
twenty years before in Bilaspur. Of course he tried with these, as 
with all his students, to lure them into the field of ophthalmology, 
especially the young women with fine, slender fingers peculiarly 
suitable for ophthalmologic surgery. Yet never did he minimize 
the dedication or labor demanded of the vocation. "Ophthalmol¬ 
ogy is a jealous mistress," he would insist, "and will not tolerate 
precious time to be squandered in pursuits that are of second¬ 
ary importance." And to Victor all other pursuits came in that 
category. 

Although memorization of subject matter was important for 
examinations, especially in India, Victor stressed techniques of 
action rather than recitation. He gave them a knowledge of good, 
sharp instruments and their use rather than the usual method just 
before examination of taking a number of instruments on a tray for 
them to memorize: "This is an iris forceps. . . . This is a von Graefe 
knife.. . . This is a de Wecker's scissors." He considered that usual 
approach to be nonsense. Let them use the instruments doing an 
actual operation on a dog's eye mounted in a hole on the top of a 
small wooden box, simulating the orbit. Students went into the 
scrubbing room with him, scrubbed up, and helped him operate. 
With this background of two sessions of an hour each, they became 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


173 


able to handle fine instruments, care for them, and be skilled in 
their practical use. This technique paid off. 

"Dr. Rambo," a university examiner said to him after his second 
year of teaching, "the Vellore students are the best prepared of any 
school which we examine." 

In the same way, forty years earlier. Dr. Ida's first class of four¬ 
teen medical students —only women, as the amused British medi¬ 
cal officer had belittled them—had not only passed their first 
year's examinations but in the process had led all the medical 
schools in the Madras Presidency. 

Dividing his time between two hospitals far removed from each 
other, Victor found, created drawbacks as well as satisfactions. He 
had even less time with his family. In August or September, Louise 
would come from Kodai to Vellore with Tommy, and they would 
board in one of the hospital bungalows until the last week in 
October, when it was time for the older children to return from 
school. Mungeli was still home. Victor would join them there for 
the winter months. 

In Mungeli, the hospital work in the late forties showed steady 
progress under the leadership of Dayal Sukhnandan. Philip James, 
after a year's training in pathology in Philadelphia, plus study in 
leprosy at Carville, Louisiana, was back on the staff. Dr. Christ¬ 
opher Deen, who had come to Mungeli in 1946 from Miraj as an 
intern and taken the two-year, short "MB" course at Vellore to 
upgrade his degree to M.B.B.S. (the basic medical degree in India), 
had been loaned to the north India massacre-relief team of the 
Christian Medical Association and been cited for his heroic service. 
He was now back in Mungeli as Dayal's assistant. Victor arranged 
for him to go to Wayne University Medical School in Detroit for a 
residency in ophthalmology. 

Thanks to Victor's contacts with the American Board of Oph¬ 
thalmology, a number of ophthalmologists were coming to 
Mungeli for short periods at their own expense, gaining tremen¬ 
dous experience in eye surgery and the many eye diseases preva¬ 
lent in India and at the same time making an important contribu¬ 
tion to the work. In 1947 there was Dr. Russell Roberts of Durham, 
North Carolina, who stayed a year; in 1948 Dr. John Gilmore of 
Santa Monica, California; in 1949 Dr. Robert Moses. Many others 
would follow during the fifties. 

Two Dodge panel trucks with trailers had come through gifts of 
the Teachout Foundation, one for Mungeli, one for Vellore. It took 
three days of driving to take the one from Mungeli to Vellore, 1020 
miles by road. Victor and his assistant spent their nights and noon 



174 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


rests in mission stations when possible, begging for shelter like 
tramps. They never knew where they might spend the night, for 
there might be all sorts of delays, as once when the trailer broke 
down and they had to find a village blacksmith to make repairs. 
The seams were welded for the paved roads of the West, not the 
rough, stony tracks that often faced the Indian traveler. The van 
was a boon when, soon after he began work in Vellore, Victor 
attempted to start eye camps there; they were by then a regular 
part of the Mungeli program. 

He planned the first Vellore eye camp in 1948. Dr. Gurubatham 
had already experimented with the idea and held a couple of 
camps with the help of a team from central India, but this was the 
first to be held under Vellore auspices. The institution officials did 
not offer much encouragement for the idea. 

“Not enough funds to take on such extra projects," they ob¬ 
jected, "and too little staff." 

"Unscientific!" scoffed department heads. "Beneath our high 
standards to attempt surgery in rural areas." 

But Victor had encountered official opposition before. He was 
not afraid of defying authority when the cause demanded action. 
He was the head of the eye department, and holding an eye camp 
was his business. It would cost the hospital nothing, and if a few 
members of his loyal staff chose to spend a few hours of hard labor 
when they might legitimately have been off duty, that was their 
business. 

The site picked was Gudiyattam, a town twenty-five miles away 
in which Vellore had a small branch hospital. An evangelist, Eddie 
Bedford, became the "teller of good news," going on his cycle into 
surrounding villages. On the day specified, a Friday, when the 
routine work of the week was ended, Victor set out in his van with 
a small team of two doctors; one nurse, Sosamma; a pharmacist, 
William Swamidasan; and an attendant. One of the doctors ac¬ 
companying him was Anna Thomas, a member of the class of 1942, 
the first class to be admitted for the M.B.B.S. course. Although 
planning to specialize in maternity and child welfare, she was 
doing her house surgeoncy at Schell Hospital. 

Because the camp was to be held in the branch hospital, they 
took no operating tables and a minimum of other supplies. Arriv¬ 
ing at the hospital, they found the street outside filled with an 
expectant crowd; many of the people had been waiting patiently 
since early morning. The hospital gates were shut tight. 

"What's this?" Victor demanded of the gatekeeper. "Why aren't 
these people let inside?" 

The man shurgged helplessly. He did not know. He was just 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


175 


obeying orders. He opened the gate to let Victor inside, then closed 
it hurriedly. 

The nursing superintendent looked as helpless as the gate¬ 
keeper. She was sorry, but it was impossible for the camp to be held 
in the hospital. After all, this had always been a hospital for women 
only, and she also had been told. . . . 

Victor went back to the van and explained the situation to his 
team. It was obvious what had happened. The administration had 
taken this way to balk what it considered an ill-conceived scheme. 
He was not disturbed. "Folks, let us pray," he said, smiling at their 
stricken faces, "that we may find a place." 

"Yes," said Swamidasan in relief. "God will find us a place." 

They drove through the streets making inquiries. Schools? No. 
Classes could not be disturbed. The government hospital? It was 
full, and besides, the possibility of infection from such a motley 
group would be too great. 

A man they met on the road recognized the van and stopped it. 
What, he inquired, had brought them to Gudiyattam? When they 
told him their difficulty, his face lighted. Oh, yes, he knew the eye 
hospital well. He had had cataract surgery done there himself by 
Dr. Gurubatham. And he had a mill that they were welcome to use. 
Come, he would show them. Taking him into the van, they drove 
to the edge of town and inspected his building. Eagerly the miller 
showed them a room in which laboring groups met for delibera¬ 
tions. Would not this do? It was stacked with a conglomeration of 
grain bags, boxes, and other miscellany, and was very dusty. But it 
had a cement floor and a solid roof. Victor looked to his team for 
confirmation. He was not disappointed. They would all help to 
clean it. 

"God bless you, brother." Victor had learned that much of Tamil, 
although most of his knowledge of the new language would con¬ 
tinue to be confined to such necessary directions as "Look up," 
"Look down," and "Close your eyes." Fortunately all classes at 
Vellore were held in English, for students came from a dozen 
different language areas. 

The patients waiting at the branch hospital were brought to the 
mill in relays by the van, and examinations were started. Mean¬ 
while Bedford, Swamidasan, and others were working tirelessly to 
clean the building and set up an operating theater. As there were 
no proper tables, they improvised them out of benches. It was 
midnight by the time all the patients had been examined, those 
needing surgery set aside, and the place made ready. 

Early the next morning Victor and his two doctors started operat¬ 
ing. The work went on and on. A tea had been arranged for them in 



176 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


the afternoon, but there was no time for tea or even rest. The only 
one not surprised at the progress made was Sister Sosamma 
Kuruvilla. Where, wondered Victor, did she get the supplies for so 
many operations? She was never at a loss. If they had gone ahead 
and done another hundred, he was sure she could have produced 
them—pads, bandages, and sheets—quietly, competently, and 
when needed. When the sheets to cover the eye operation fields 
ran out, she put the used ones through a strong bichloride solu¬ 
tion, wrung them out, and had them ready to use again. 

The mill owner tried to provide space in various places for the 
patients, but it was difficult. Many were placed on mats in the 
operating room itself. They operated until the patients on the floor 
were so close together that they could not walk between them. 
Then when they were nearly through they took down one “table" 
and laid patients on the floor beside the one remaining; then they 
took up that table and set it against the pillar in the center. The 
whole room was full. It was nine o'clock when they finished the 
sixty-ninth operation. 

There was one observer who was far more excited over the 
success of the venture than Victor and his team. "Tell me again this 
wonderful thing Dr. Rambo is doing," demanded Dr. Ida, ready in 
her car long before seven o'clock, the hour specified for starting on 
this new adventure. "What is this 'eye camp,' as he calls it?" 

Not for years had she been so excited as on this trip to Gudiyat- 
tam. It was like pioneering all over again, for it was to Gudiyattam 
that in the early days she had traveled once a week for a dispen¬ 
sary, first by train and jutka, then by her little one cylinder Peugeot. 
On those trips she stopped at certain stations along the way to treat 
patients, a technique that had developed through the years into 
"Roadside," traveling dispensaries that went out on a network of 
roads around Vellore and in a single year might treat over two 
hundred thousand patients. 

Arriving at the mill, she was soon in the thick of the excitement, 
helping, watching, her hands as deft, blue eyes as sparkling, feet 
as brisk at seventy-eight as they had been at forty-five. She stayed 
until the end. Riding home through the long avenues of tamarinds 
and banyans, she could hardly contain her delight. "I've never 
seen anything like it," she said exultantly. "And to think they're 
going to do it at least twice a month!" 

"If they can get the money," reminded one of her companions 
grimly. "And if the hospital authorities give their approval." 

"If! Money!" Dr. Ida's blue eyes blazed. Did anybody think lack of 
money could stop an idea like this? Today sixty-nine blind people 
had been given sight. Soon there would be a hundred; in a year, a 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


177 


thousand; in ten years, who knew how many? She had dizzying 
visions: Fewer beggers lifting sightless eyes and wailing, "Kan 
teriathu, I'm blind!"; instead, ten thousand people crying, 
"Whereas I was blind, now I see!" Somehow she knew that the tall, 
lanky surgeon with the swift, tireless, steady hands was an in¬ 
trepid dreamer, as relentless in purpose as herself. There would be 
no more ifs in his vocabulary than there were in hers. Nor would 
the disapproval of authorities keep him from his goal. 

Sixty-nine operations! Victor had seldom ended a day more 
weary. But in the courtyard outside where the patients' families 
were gathered, many of them children, he summoned energy to 
make faces and joke with them, even do a little jigging, sending 
them into gales of laughter. William Swamidasan was left to care 
for the patients, using the second operating bench for what sleep 
he could get, which was little. He was on twenty-four hour duty, 
bringing food and leading those who had no family to the toilet 
improvised in a corner. There was one other attendant and a 
sweeper to help, but it was William, he who had said "God will 
find us a place," who took the brunt of the continuous care. 

Victor went out every other day to dress the patients' eyes. 
Always he tried to take some of his students with him, a lesson far 
more potent than any taught in the classroom. At the end of ten 
days, every patient was discharged with his vision at least partially 
restored. Victor's first camp at Vellore was an outstanding success. 

Perhaps it was partly Dr. Ida's enthusiasm that slowly eroded 
the opposition of the hospital authorities to eye camps. Still, there 
was no money for them in the budget, and Victor called once more 
on his committee to provide funds, which it did. He stubbornly 
persevered in holding camps as often as possible—"Mobile Eye 
Hospitals" he preferred to call them, but because of its brevity and 
informality the designation of eye camp persisted—but difficulties 
continued to mount. When complaints came to Dr. Lazarus that 
the teams were working too close to some clinics where people 
came and paid for services, she ruled that before they could hold a 
camp they had to have official permission. But Edward Bedford, 
their "teller of good news," knew the country well and usually 
found places where they could operate from eight in the morning 
to eight in the evening. It was on one of these that Edward found 
his wife, a nurse from Kerala who was working for a mission near 
Bangalore. 

As members of the staff visited eye camps, they became ardent 
converts to the project. One of these was Brigadier General 
Wilson-Haffenden, who, after retiring from his post of commander 
of the Madras area of the British army, became general superinten- 



178 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


dent of the hospital. His first meeting with Victor took place when 
he and his wife were entertained by the students at College Hill, 
and there was Victor giving a hilarious demonstration of tap danc¬ 
ing on a table top in the the students' commons! 

"If that's a missionary in action," decided the army man, known 
to his friends as "Haffy," "I'm going to feel thoroughly at home." 

One day he accompanied Victor to an eye camp twenty miles 
from Vellore, driving him in the hospital jeep. Even before they left 
the city he was given a sample of the other's unexpected behavior. 
As they turned around a policeman on point duty directing traffic 
with all his magnificent dignity, Victor leaned out and handed him 
a sweet that Haffy had just given him. "This will do you more good 
than it would me, brother," he said with his beaming smile. Haffy 
would never forget the look of amazement on the policeman's face. 

Before they reached their destination, they were held up by a 
large tree that had fallen across the road. A crowd of villagers had 
collected and was regarding the encumbrance helplessly. Victor 
was soon talking with one of the bystanders who could speak 
English. 

"When did this take place, brother?" 

"Early this morning. Sahib." 

"Was anybody hurt?" 

"No one. Sahib. No one was near at the time." 

"Then let us pray and thank God that you have all been spared. 
To show our thankfulness we will clear the tree out of the way so 
that I can go on and give sight to all the blind people waiting for me 
at the next village." 

Prayer was fervent but brief. The tree was cleared away in a few 
minutes, and they were on their way. Arriving at the village, they 
found that the schoolhouse had been prepared for the camp. A 
crowd of over a hundred was waiting. After further prayer, exami¬ 
nations took place, and a label giving the name of the operation 
desired was sewn on the blouse or shirt of each surgical patient. 
Others were treated, and some told to come back at the next visit in 
a few months. 

Haffy watched the ensuing action with amazement. The team 
worked with clocklike precision. While at one table a student 
prepped a patient, shaving eyebrows, cutting lashes, and giving 
anesthetic, at another Victor was skillfully removing a cataract, and 
at a third his assistant surgeon was stitching an eye and bandaging. 
The patients were then laid out in two rooms, one for men, one for 
women. Supplies of milk powder sufficient for ten days, sent by 
the World Health Organization, were left in charge of the nurse 
who remained to care for the patients. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


179 


Haffy would not have missed the climax for all his army medals. 
Never would he forget the joy when he returned with Victor and 
saw the bandages taken off. 

“How many can you see?" Victor would ask, holding up one, 
two, or three fingers. 

"Onnu," " rendu ," "mundru," would come the joyful replies. One 
old woman who had been blind for fifteen years shouted with the 
tears running down her face, “I can see, I can see!" She was not the 
only one weeping for joy. 

On August 14,1947, just twenty-four days before his sovereignty 
over the country ended, his imperial majesty the king emperor of 
India awarded to Victor the highest honor possible for a person in 
his position, the Kaiser-I-Hind Medal for public service in India. 
Because Victor was unable to go to Delhi at the time for the decora¬ 
tion, it was given to him in Nagpur the following year by the 
governor of the Central Provinces, renamed after independence as 
Madhya Pradesh. It was an oval-shaped badge in gold with the 
royal cipher on one side. It was the first of many such honors 
coming to him through the years, and it was his initiation into a 
distinguished company on the Vellore staff, including Dr. Ida and 
Dr. Lazarus. 

Thanks to the Rambo Committee, Victor was able to travel in 
1950 to the International Congress of Ophthalmology in London. It 
was a rewarding trip, with stops all along the way; in Cairo, 
marveling at the treasures of King Tut; in Greece; Rome; Zurich; 
and Paris. His only disappointment was in failing to get a visa to 
visit the mission hospital in Kuwait. In Paris he was told that the 
plane he would take to London was not the six o'clock flight as 
scheduled but the seven o'clock. Why? No reason was given. O.K., 
Lord , he thought. There must be some reason. Guide me all the way. On 
the plane he found himself sitting beside an official of the Kuwait 
Oil Company. 

"We will put our London office on your problem," he told Victor, 
apprised of the situation. And before Victor left London, ar¬ 
rangements had been made for his visa for Kuwait. 

In London he presented a paper on the early presbyopia in India, 
the first international gathering at which the subject had been 
discussed. Formerly it had been taught and presented in all 
textbooks that there was one human table of accommodation 
applicable to all people of the earth. But investigation had proved 
that different peoples have an accommodation change from youth 
to old age differing from others, and that people who live closer to 
the equator have earlier need of reading glasses. 

In England Victor also met Bill, who had graduated from Kodai 



180 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


that June and was on his way by ship to become a student at 
Lafayette College in America. 

The Kuwait official had made good his promise. At Basra Victor 
was met by a private plane and taken to Kuwait, where he visited 
Doctor and Mrs. Lewis Scudder at the mission hospital. And the 
oil!-he saw it coming in such quantitities that in one place a pipe 
twenty-four inches in diameter was used for one well, with no 
pumping required. One might have thought that the very center of 
the earth would become hollow. He stopped at Bahrain, where in 
the mission hospital he met his old friend. Dr. Paul Harrison, 
missionary for many years in Arabia; and Dr. Jacob Chandy, who 
was to become head of neurosurgery at Vellore. 

The university authorities had decreed that the head of the 
Vellore eye department must be a full-time resident to get the 
necessary accreditation, so in 1950 the family moved to Vellore. It 
was a difficult transition, for it meant exchanging the roomy bun¬ 
galow in Mungeli for smaller quarters in the growing, crowded 
college and hospital, sharing the second floor of a small bungalow 
with another doctor; but Louise accepted any inconvenience as 
cheerfully as the time in each hot season when she had rolled up 
the beautiful Persian rug and packed for the long journey to the 
hills. The new home was adequate, well furnished, and comfort¬ 
able. At least there would no longer be the months of separation 
when she was in Mungeli and Victor was in Vellore. 

For the next two years they lived in the small bungalow on the 
college campus, sharing the upstairs with another family, while Dr. 
M. D. Graham, a woman pediatrician, occupied the ground floor. 
Now Louise as well as Victor was absorbed into the Vellore family, 
winning the affection and admiration of all for her sweet serenity 
and friendliness, while Victor delighted, amused, amazed, and 
occasionally slightly shocked others with his exuberance and un¬ 
predictability. It was not surprising that both students and staff 
were soon chuckling over some of these displays of the unex¬ 
pected: his stopping the car at an intersection and getting out to 
pray with the policeman on traffic duty or, if he had committed a 
slight mistake in obeying the traffic rules, giving the policeman a 
salute and such a broad smile that the officer completely over¬ 
looked the error; his picking up children along the road when 
driving, giving them a jolly ride, then taking them to the hospital 
and asking the nurses to give each one a spoonful of shark liver oil 
to prevent keratomalacia; or his calling the nursing sister in the 
morning to find out about a particular patient or the schedule of 
operations, then at the end of the conversation praying so long into 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


181 


the phone that the sister had to terminate the call with an "Amen" 
at the other end. 

It was sometimes difficult to tell whether this lengthiness of 
petition was due wholly to fervor or partly to expediency. Once 
when Dr. H. G. Conger, head of the visual aids department of the 
Methodist Board of Missions, was visiting Vellore, Victor asked 
him if he would like to see a cataract operation. He accepted the 
invitation with alacrity, donned mask and gown, and accompanied 
the surgical team into the operating room. The patient was 
prepped and anesthetized. 

"It's our custom to offer prayer before every operation," Victor 
told him. "Would you like to do it?" 

The guest made the petition short, thinking brevity was ex¬ 
pected. "Let's pray some more," said Victor, and he did so at some 
length; possibly, thought Dr. Conger, because he needed more 
time for the anesthesia to work? 

Victor's jigging made him very popular with the students. They 
called for it at all times and in all places, and he was willing to oblige 
whenever it was appropriate: at student entertainments; athletic 
events; even in the classroom, using desk, table—whatever—in 
lieu of a stage. Being Victor, he zipped into each act with all his dash 
and verve, much to the concern of Louise. "Oh, Vic, do be careful!" 
she could often be heard to admonish. 

Once Victor decided to teach young Victor Choudharie tap danc¬ 
ing. The only convenient place was the main road in front of the 
college. While he was doing a professional job and his pupil was a 
reluctant learner, a number of city buses arrived from both sides 
and started honking. Were they trying to clear the road or provide 
music for the exhibition? he wondered. Victor took it for the latter 
and continued the lesson. After a few minutes he had some of the 
drivers getting out to join him and attempting some of the steps, 
the passengers on the buses providing an impromptu if not impa¬ 
tient audience. 

Victor considered few places inappropriate for giving pleasure 
with his jigging. Once, some years later when he was staying only 
briefly in Vellore, Dr. Ruth Myers, the microbiologist who was then 
working at the Leprosy Hospital at Karigiri, was unable to get to 
College Hill to see him, so she drove to the railroad station at 
Katpadi, located between the two places, to catch him as he was 
leaving to attend an ophthalmological meeting in Bangalore. They 
sat in her car and talked and prayed until she feared he would miss 
the train. Then, just before he went through the doors to the tracks, 
he called out to her and went into a brisk clog. 



182 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


"Imagine," she commented later with relish, "the grins and 
stares of the dozens of persons watching, coolies, passengers, 
idlers, those waiting for new arrivals!" 

He once agreed to do a tap dance at one of the medical college 
entertainments, but he embarrassed some of his audience by be¬ 
ginning and ending the clogging with prayer. And why not? Prayer 
came as naturally to him as any other activity—more so. Then 
there was the time when he led prayers in the college chapel one 
morning and showed how he combined morning prayers with his 
daily calisthenics, bowing low and bending deeply before the 
Lord, then lifting his arms high in adoration and praise. Imagine 
the shocked face of the Anglican chaplain who was in the audi¬ 
ence. "Physical jerks—in chapel!" muttered the ecclesiastic as he 
emerged from Dr. Ida's beautiful octagonal house of worship. But 
the two men came to appreciate each other as they became better 
acquainted. 

"There is only one Vic (fortunately, some people think!)" com¬ 
mented Naomi Carman, wife of the long-time director of Vellore. 
"But in him, witnessing and prayer are so natural and exuberant 
that it is profoundly moving, even if at times embarrassing. And 
when we faced difficulties or sorrows, how helpful it was to have 
him pray with us and lead us directly to the comfort and strength of 
God's presence, as simply as a child coming to a parent!" 

Helpful, he certainly was. Still, at times he was also definitely 
embarrassing. There was the time when he went to see the De- 
Valois family (Vellore missionaries) off on their ship at Cochin and 
stopped to have a farewell prayer on the gangplank while the crew 
waited impatiently to pull it up; and when he was carrying on a 
long-distance telephone conversation with a mission official, try¬ 
ing unsuccessfully to persuade him to agree to some project. "Let's 
talk to God about it," said Victor, and he proceeded to do so at 
some length. 

"Vic, that's enough," said the official. "You are connected to me, 
not to God, and I'm paying for this call." 

"It was always difficult to work out problems with Vic," con¬ 
fessed another of the Vellore staff, "because he would always 
resort to 'Let us pray about it' and proceed to tell you in telling God 
what he wanted done!" 

Victor was not above using prayer as an instrument of reform; it 
was more effective, he found, than advice or sermons. Smoking 
was anathema to him, a habit he considered both dangerous and 
sinful. It was the one failing, he thought, of Dr. John Carman, the 
dedicated and competent Vellore director for many years. He 
smoked the cheapest Indian cigarettes, the brand called Char Mi- 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


183 


nar. One could see the packet all the time in the pocket of his nylon 
shirt. How could he approach such a responsible and upright man, 
known to be somewhat abrupt? One day Victor met his superior at 
the entrance of the director's bungalow. 

"John/' he said, "let's have a word of prayer," a request the 
director could not very well refuse. "Lord," Victor prayed, "if You 
want John to smoke—well, I have nothing to say. Amen." It was a 
ploy that often worked, and many gave up their smoking because 
of Victor's persistent urging, both to God and to themselves. Dr. 
Carman did not, however. 

Nor did the approach prove effective with a young medical 
student who was smoking a cigarette on the street corner while 
waiting for a bus going to the college. As he boarded he saw Victor 
seated by the window not far from the only vacant seat. When the 
bus started Victor came to him and gently chided him for smoking, 
told the young student to bow with him there on the bus, and then 
prayed with him all the three miles to College Hill. "I thought we 
would never get to the college stop," confessed the young man. "It 
never seemed so far before." 

Victor was more successful with another young man, but not 
because of prayer. Once on a train he came across a Muslim co¬ 
traveler who was smoking. 

"What is your name?" he asked with his usual friendliness. 

"Ibrahim," was the reply. 

"But you know," observed Victor with his beaming smile, 
"Abraham never smoked." 

Immediately the Muslim extinguished his beedi. 

Although such anecdotes were chuckled over and treasured by 
his Vellore associates, there was no amusement, only sincere admi¬ 
ration, in the tributes that many would later accord him. 

"Vic never spared himself," said one missionary colleague. "His 
examinations were always thorough and gentle, and his concern 
so clearly manifest. Even when technically on vacation, he was 
available for eye tests and treatment at the school in Kodai, a 
helpful service for fellow missionaries and local residents, with the 
nominal fee going to help finance eye camps on the plains." 

"His life is one abounding in LOVE for his neighbor," declared 
Ed Bedford. "He regards every patient rich or poor as worth the 
world." 

"What happy memories we have of Vic!" Naomi Carman was to 
recall. "He is so dedicated, so stimulating, so unexpected, and so 
lovable!" 

One morning she was riding in his car from College Hill to the 
hospital, and a group of schoolboys flagged him down, asking for a 



184 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


ride. Of course they expected him to let them out at the high 
school. "Sah, sah, this is where we get down!" they shouted as he 
drove past it. Victor went blithely on the few more blocks to the eye 
hospital, where he insisted that all have their eyes tested before 
going to school. 

"Victor believes all things are possible with God's help," was 
Naomi's assessment, "and he accomplishes things no one else 
could have because of his childlike faith." 

One hot Sunday afternoon, he urged Naomi to go with him to a 
baptismal service at the little Tamil church in which Dr. Ida had 
worshiped through the years. The Church of South India allows a 
choice of baptism, sprinkling or immersion, and to Victor's satis¬ 
faction the candidate, one of his workers, had chosen the latter 
form. The church had built a cement baptismal pool out in the 
yard, but it had not been used frequently. 

Arriving at the church, they found an atmosphere of consterna¬ 
tion. The pool had been painstakingly filled with many buckets of 
water that morning, but it had developed cracks, and the water 
had all leaked out. It would take hours to bring the needed water, 
and it would doubtless leak out again while being filled. Victor did 
not hesitate. 

"Let's use that fire hydrant," he said, pointing to one nearby, 
"and fill it quickly." 

Everyone objected. It was locked. Only the chief of police could 
authorize the fire department to unlock it. It was Sunday after¬ 
noon, and the chief would be taking his siesta at home. He was a 
Hindu and would never authorize the use of the hydrant for such a 
purpose. Unheeding, Victor dashed off to the chief's house, used 
all his powers of persuasion, went on to the fire department, and 
returned to the church with a fireman. The tank was filled quickly 
and, with the aid of these Hindu officials, before the water could 
leak out again the baptism of an outcaste menial worker was 
hurriedly performed. Surely this was another "wondhap." 

Victor's powers of persuasion were enhanced by a quick wit and 
geniality that got him out of many awkward situations. On an eye 
camp at Padavedu he happened to enter a Hindu temple with his 
shoes on. The temple priest faced him in shocked horror. "Sahib, 
no one enters this temple wearing his shoes!" It was a tense 
moment. Victor never allowed superstitious beliefs to interfere 
with his way of life. Yet the opposition of the priest might jeopar¬ 
dize the success of the camp. 

"Brother," he replied in the friendliest of tones, "the soles of my 
shoes are made of rubber, not of leather." 

The priest left the place quietly, his hot temper cooled. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


185 


Life on the college campus during those years at Vellore was 
blessed with rare fellowship. Some of the world's leading spe¬ 
cialists had been assembled, and Victor's eye camps were only one 
of the "firsts" that were making medical history. Down in the 
hospital Dr. Reeve Betts, eminent cardiologist, was performing the 
first open heart surgery in India. Dr. Paul Brand was revolutioniz¬ 
ing the theory and treatment of leprosy with his techniques of 
rehabilitation and his re-creation of a human hand out of a claw; 
and Victor was training Paul's wife, Dr. Margaret, in the treatment 
of eyes as related to leprosy. Also, Dr. Ida B. Scudder was making 
notable gains in the treatment of cancer. The campus abounded in 
these and other stimulating personalities. Besides Dr. Ida B. there 
were the Carmans; Treva Marshall, dean of women students, who 
had seen the college grow from infancy to lusty maturity; Dr. Jacob 
Chandy, the country's leading neurologist; Dr. Ruth Myers, re¬ 
searching some of India's virulent plagues in her department of 
microbiology; and Dr. Gwenda Lewis, the jolly and competent 
anesthesiologist from Wales. 

Victor in his exuberant love of fun might well have unintention¬ 
ally killed Gwenda. He was at a dinner party in Dr. Ida's big 
bungalow, and Gwenda was sitting opposite him. Nuts and mints 
had been passed, and Victor had a handful of peanuts. 

"Open your mouth, Gwenda," he called. She obeyed, and he 
threw a peanut with deadly accuracy, not only into her mouth but 
all the way down to her esophagus. She did not have to swallow. It 
went down and down and was gone. Victor paled. His relief was 
overwhelming. If it had gone into her trachea instead of her 
esophagus she might have died. Dear God , he prayed, thank You for 
protecting Gwenda . 1 will never he so foolish as to throw anything into an 
open mouth again. 

In 1952 the Vellore years were interrupted by furlough. Fortu¬ 
nately Dr. Roy Ebenezer had come back from London in late 1950, 
sufficiently trained to take over the department temporarily, al¬ 
though in the next few years he would have to take further gradu¬ 
ate study to qualify fully. Victor's year in America was marked 
chiefly by events relating to family. He and Louise rejoiced with 
Birch over his graduation from the University of Pennsylvania 
Medical School and his marriage in June to Peggy Gordon, but 
they sorrowed with him over surgery that involved the loss of a 
kidney. They enjoyed reunion with Bill, who was a student at 
Lafayette, and saw Barbara enter the College of Wooster. They 
delighted in their first grandchild, Helen's baby, bom in 1950. But it 
was a year of marking time. In India, five million blind eyes were 
crying to be opened. Victor's fingers itched for his healing tools. A 



186 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


dozen lives would have been all too short for what he wanted to 
do, and already he was sixty-two. 

He flew back to India in the summer of 1953 to be on hand for 
four months of teaching at Vellore. Louise and Tommy would 
follow later by ship. In the Zurich airport, Herr Grieshaber met him 
with instruments he needed. Then it was on to India. 

The two years he had been promised full-time by his mission to 
Vellore were over, but he could not leave. Dr. Roy Ebenezer was not 
yet recognized by Madras University for teaching purposes, so 
Victor once more became head of the department of ophthalmol¬ 
ogy. But so able had the national staff become, a thing he had for 
years worked for, that he now found he was not needed in the 
administration of the eye department. Communication between 
the official head of the department, himself, and the institution's 
director had virtually stopped. It was both a delight and a frustra¬ 
tion. Perhaps once more, as with his own mission board, he was 
too much the individualist to work in complete harmony with any 
form of higher authority. 

"Vic finds it hard," said one Vellore colleague, "to be bound by 
the rules of any organization. He can't understand why new vision 
for all isn't the first priority in medical education. (And when one is 
with him, it's easy to be convinced that he is right!) Hence, his 
running feud with administration, which has to consider the needs 
of every department and the well-rounded education of the stu¬ 
dents. But in spite of disagreement on methods, everyone who 
knows Vic finds him an inspiring example of a truly dedicated life 
and a very lovable human being." 

At least it was possible now to spend more time in Mungeli. The 
hospital there was growing like a healthy banyan, thrusting down 
roots of new buildings, new departments, and new outreach into 
villages. Although there were now some half dozen doctors and a 
dozen nurses on its staff, however, it would have no resident 
ophthalmologist until Dr. Christopher Deen returned from his 
postgraduate work in Detroit. During the winter months, when 
eye patients came in throngs, Victor's services in Mungeli were 
indispensable. His work that first winter was characterized by the 
same difficulties as formerly—unusually dry, dusty weather, fail¬ 
ing equipment, and shortage of hospital personnel because four of 
the staff, including Dayal Sukhnandan and his wife and Daya 
Choudharie, were in America on study leave. But the work was 
also notable for its improved facilities for care of eye patients in the 
new Bentley Eye Ward and for treatment of cancer with the only 
radium in the whole state of Madhya Pradesh. And the winter's 
work was also made easier by the welcome volunteer help of Dr. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


187 


JohnDiCicco of Massachusetts and Dr. L. F. Baisinger of California. 

Yet Victor knew, and rejoiced to know, that this need of him was 
only temporary. The Indian leadership he had brought into being 
would soon be able to assume full responsibility. 

Returning to Mungeli after his teaching months in October 1954, 
he wrote home to America: 'The hospital looks forward to the 
busiest season in its history. Dr. and Mrs. Sukhnandan and Daya 
Choudharie are arriving from America this week. Already, with 
the end of the monsoon, wards are filling up, and under the 
tamarind and poinciana trees, families from the villages light their 
cooking fires. May the light and warmth of the Gospel be kindled 
in the lives of many as they learn of the love of God through the 
service of this arm of the church in India." 

Yet these years of the mid-fifties brought loss to Mungeli. "It is 
good," Victor had written Hira Lai from America in June 1953, "to 
think of your sixty years of service in Mungeli. What a big change 
has been wrought! God has been working all this time, working 
through you." The words had been almost a farewell tribute, for 
death came to the faithful Indian just before Christmas in 1955. "A 
great personality, a great Christian," Louise wrote home to friends. 
"His funeral w T as attended by probably the biggest crowd the 
Mungeli church has ever seen." With his going, Victor sensed that 
he had come to the end of an era, and of course the beginning of 
another. 

But what was the new era? Where would it take him? "My 
specialty enslaves me," he wrote during this uncertain period. 
"Now as I grow older I want to more and more go out into 
somewhere, and there are so many places where there is no 
medicine, no Gospel witness, no doctor at all!" When the time 
came, he knew, the way would be shown. 



10 


F rom time immemorial it had been the custom for Indians to go 
on journeys, pilgrimages, in search of spiritual or physical 
help, to temples, sacred rivers, mountain shrines, and the haunts 
of gurus. Now the hospitals, both at Vellore and at Mungeli, were 
such places of pilgrimage, and many traveled as far as to the head 
waters of the Ganges at Hardwar or to the sacred river ghats at 
Banaras. 

In fact, one man came from that holy city itself, an elderly 
Brahmin pandit whose eyes had developed cataracts. Hearing that 
there was an eye hospital in Mungeli, far to the south, he loaded 
himself and his servant on an elephant and traveled by easy stages, 
taking a month for the 250 mile journey, as he collected food for the 
elephant and donations for himself. 

As the cool season began and Victor returned from his teaching 
in Vellore, the numbers coming down the road to Mungeli Hospital 
increased: grandmothers with cataracts, farmers with trachoma, 
some lying on beds, a baby in a basket poised on its mother's head, 
a man or woman in a hammock slung from a pole. They came in ox 
carts, in buses, in sagging, overloaded taxis, and occasionally in a 
private car. Down the road under the feathery branches of the big 
tamarind trees they came, through the arched gateway informing 
all who could read that this was the hospital. In 1955, 1353 eye 
operations were performed in the hospital, 629 in the eye camps. 

In Vellore the idea of the eye camps had fallen on fertile soil. The 
dedicated Eddie Bedford seemed always able to find a favorable 
location. They might be held in barracks furnished by the army or 
inside rooms of an airdrome; many times they were held in a 
schoolhouse. In one place where they expected to get mission 
cooperation they were asked not to come, but the Brahmin who 
was head of the school district gave the pupils a two-week holiday 
so the camp could be held immediately. Many times they operated 
in rest houses contributed by the government. An abandoned mill 

188 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


189 


made an excellent place, for there was usually a cement floor, and 
they could place patients all around the machinery. All the patient 
in the south of India needed was a mat and a warning to the 
attendants if there was danger of his bumping his head and injur¬ 
ing his eye. In one place monkeys ran over the tiled roof, breaking 
off a piece that hit the head of a patient recently operated on, nearly 
causing the loss of the eye, which filled with blood. But the blood 
absorbed, the congestion cleared, and the sight was saved. In Ar- 
cot, where Dr. Ida B. went each week on "Roadside," a man moved 
out of his main house and let them use it as an operating room. 

In the village of Chittoor they operated in the chapel. Strangely 
enough, church buildings were sometimes refused to them for 
what was considered a secular purpose, even though the gospel of 
Him who gave sight to the blind in the holiest of places would for 
ten days be constantly lived and taught. Blindness, Victor knew, 
was not confined to sightless eyes. 

Eddie Bedford went to prepare the way in a distant village called 
Pollur where no camp had been held and no Christian worker had 
ever gone. "All who cannot see or are having trouble with their 
eyes come here to me," he said, his usual announcement. "Doctors 
and nurses are coming to the old, abandoned mill, and there with 
great care your eyes will be tested and, if found to be operable, you 
can get your sight. You will see again, SEE AGAIN!" 

For hour after hour on the appointed day the blind came. Soon 
the big mill room looked like an Indian railway station, with people 
standing, sitting, and lying on every available inch of the hard 
floor. At midday, Victor arrived with his team and the trailer was 
unloaded—operating tables, distilled water, kerosene stoves, and 
medical and surgical instruments. By late afternoon order had 
been produced from the chaos, and the patients had been sorted 
out and seated in four long rows, most with expressionless, up¬ 
turned faces. Some looked terrified. Presently Victor found himself 
looking into the face of an old man, deeply lined and gaunt but 
filled with eagerness and hope. 

"Yesu is love, Yesu is love," the man murmured softly in Tamil. 

Victor regarded him in amazement. How, he wondered, had this 
man became familiar with the name of Jesus? "Seri, yes, brother," 
he said. "Yesu is love, and He is going to help me give you back 
your sight." 

Later he made inquiries. Twenty-five years before, a group of 
south Indian laborers had been recruited to go to Africa to build a 
sugar cane mill. A woman missionary there, seeing the Indians 
without friends, learned a few words of Tamil and spoke to them in 
short, three or four word sentences. One of these was, "Yesu is 



190 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


love/' This man had remembered it. He had not known who Yesu 
was or why He was love. In fact he did not understand the word 
love too well. But the words had sounded so sweet that he had used 
them in worship ever since, as Hindus are accustomed to repeat 
the name of Ram or Krishna or Vishnu. Now at last through 
Poobalan, the team evangelist, he learned the meaning of the 
words, and during the days of the camp he received spiritual as 
well as physical sight. As a result, forty families in his village were 
baptized into the Danish mission church. 

The eye camp team functioned like a perfectly tuned orchestra, 
from the driver, Samuel, to the chief surgeons, Roy Ebenezer, and 
Victor. There were Sister Sosamma Ittykuruvilla and her student 
nurses; Poobalan and Kristy, the compounders; Raj, the cook; and, 
of course, Eddie Bedford. And if Victor was the orchestra director. 
Dr. Anna Thomas was the first violin, supplying melody and 
rhythm. A graduate of Vellore, she had considered specializing in 
maternity and child welfare; but going out on her first eye camp 
with Victor, she had immediately chosen ophthalmology as her 
field and in ensuing years gone out on every camp possible, 
becoming later for many years the head of the eye department. Her 
earnest desire to give service to villagers—especially the 
handicapped—and her fine hands, backed by a knowledge of 
general medicine and surgery and then of eyes, meant the saving 
of sight for many thousands; and her dedication to the gospel 
brought a knowledge of Christ. 

"Anna knows more hymns from beginning to end," Victor said, 
marveling, "than any other person I have ever met." 

Often in the semidarkness as they rode along the trail, Sosamma 
would distribute songbooks, and the team members would follow 
the words as long as they could see. But coming back in the dark, 
sometimes close to midnight, Anna with her sweet voice would 
become the leader. Whether in English, Hindi, Tamil, or 
Malayalam, her own language of Kerala, and whether the song 
was familiar or not, they would always follow. The weariness of 
the long day would drop away. The melody and the words might 
be Indian, British, or an American folk song, but the sound was as 
hopeful and triumphant as the refrain from Handel's Messiah: 
"Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened." 

In 1955 Dr. Ida witnessed another eye camp. At eighty-five she 
was still vigorous, filled with wonder and enthusiasm, although a 
year later she would suffer a stroke that would slow her swift feet, 
bend her straight shoulders, cloud her keen vision, and, worst of 
all, dull her alert mind. One Friday afternoon, visiting little old 
Schell Hospital, she watched the preparations and the crowding 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


191 


into the ambulance of Dr. Rambo and two Indian doctors, nurses, 
the cook, his helper, the evangelist, and others. 

"How far this time?" she asked. 

"About seventy-five miles," replied Victor, smiling. "We should 
have started earlier, but this is an extra, you know. It has to be done 
after hours, and I had a lot of operations to do first. We're using an 
old cattle shed this time." 

"And how many camps have you had so far?" 

"This is the one hundredth, Aunt Ida, a real landmark. We've 
done over 5,000 operations." 

"Santhosham, happiness!" she exclaimed, her blue eyes aglow. 
"I'll come out and watch tomorrow. We'll have a real tamasha of 
thanksgiving!" 

Victor was becoming more and more restless during this fourth 
term of service. He was like a racehorse tied at the starting line, 
with the sound of the signal gun and the thunder of hoofs in his 
ears. There was so much to do and so little time to do it! With Dr. 
Christopher Deen back from America, he was needed less at 
Mungeli. Dr. Roy Ebenezer had the work well under control at 
Vellore, but the University of Madras still failed to accredit him 
with a Master of Surgery degree, which was the sole reason for 
Victor's remaining at Vellore. In 1957 Victor was named president 
of the All-India Ophthalmological Society, a signal honor for a 
non-Indian and an experience that stretched his goals to limitless 
horizons. Should he confine his work to a few hundred operations 
each year that could just as well be performed by others when there 
were five million blind in areas still untouched? 

A few years before, he had been invited to head the eye depart¬ 
ment at Ludhiana, Vellore's sister college-hospital in the north; but 
because of his obligation to Vellore, he had been unable to consider 
it. In 1957, however, he was able at last to obtain Dr. Ebenezer's 
accreditation from the University of Madras. Now there was noth¬ 
ing to stand in his way when another invitation came from 
Ludhiana. As always when there came a major change, he had no 
doubt about its accord with divine leading. He tendered his res¬ 
ignation at Vellore, and to his relief it was accepted. 

Despite his frustrations, his contribution to Vellore had been 
colossal. No one realized this better than Roy Ebenezer, his pupil 
and successor. In an article contributed-lo the college and hospital 
paper. Dr. Roy tried to express somthing of his love and esteem: 

"His horizon for eye work at Vellore knew no bounds. He had 
ambitious programs for post-graduate teaching for doctors and 
nursing students, with the latest implements and facilities incor¬ 
porated in a larger eye hospital of 150 beds which would give the 



192 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


best eye treatment in the East. Through his efforts many ophthal¬ 
mologists have come from Europe and America for training in 
surgery. His great contribution to ophthalmology at Vellore and 
what he did for the extension of the Kingdom of God in the 
hospital, college, and villages can never be forgotten." 

From Vellore, Victor and Louise drove north a thousand miles to 
Ludhiana in the Punjab, and Victor started work in the college and 
hospital founded many years before by an Englishwoman, Dr. 
Edith Brown, honored by British royalty in her later life as Dame 
Edith. Founded, like Vellore, as an institution for healing and for 
training women, it also had been obliged to become coeducational 
and upgrade its standards to fit government requirements. Living 
quarters were at a premium, and Louise returned that fall to 
Mungeli. Victor joined her for Christmas, and the day after they 
went on a camping trip to Baiga land in the eastern mountains, a 
combination of holiday, medical work, and wild animal stalking, 
staying in Chada in a brick- and mud-walled two-room rest house. 

The next day Louise wandered through the little Chada bazaar, 
mingling with the shoppers and admiring the picturesque dress 
peculiar to the hill tribe of Baigas: ropes of multiple strings of 
colored beads; large, beaded hoops in the tops of ears; men with a 
small turban wound twice around, long leaf pipe behind one ear, 
hip-lenth jacket, loincloth and bare legs, carrying a tangia (axe) and 
lathi (long pole); women with beads, bracelets, anklets, and ear¬ 
rings, a child slung in a sari tied over the shoulder; and hair, both 
men's and women's, wound in a long loop at the back. The bazaar 
would have done credit to a Woolworth's, with everything on sale 
from saris and jackets, cups and saucers, jewelry, thread, lamps, 
and matches to hair oil and skin cream. 

Meanwhile Victor set himself up on the edge of the bazaar with 
literature and medical equipment. Few adults were literate, but 
children were beginning to attend school and learn to read. He sold 
some books, gave out medicines for colds and fevers, and tested 
eyes. He was delighted to meet an ex-patient from one of the eye 
camps wearing cataract glasses, smiling broadly and much pleased 
with his operation. 

They went out on beats in the jungle, looked for peacocks and 
sambhur stags, but saw nothing but two jackals and a large 
wildcat. Only once had Victor had the luck of shooting a carnivore, 
a few years before in this same jungle when Bill and Bob Schramm, 
his Kodai classmate, had been with him. Victor had killed a beauti¬ 
ful panther with one shot—at least he hoped he had killed it. They 
sat around waiting for it to move. Then one of the Indian men went 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


193 


up and tickled its tail and discovered for sure that it was dead. 
Villagers thronged around and carried it to the car. Presently Victor 
found to his consternation that they had removed every one of its 
whiskers, important for mounting. 

"Why?" he inquired. They were very valuable, was the reply. 
Why were they valuable? Because rightly processed they made 
such effective murder tools. One could chop them up, give them, 
minced and tasteless, to some person in his food, and the bits of 
whisker would become barbed weapons causing multiple ulcerat¬ 
ing and fatal sores in the bowels. There would be no trace of a 
murder weapon. Victor speculated with the idea of selling the 
method to Agatha Christie! Not one of the mustache hairs was 
returned to him, even when he asked for them. So his one big 
trophy, his magnificent panther, had no beard. 

He had no such hunting luck on this expedition. But at night 
around a blazing fire, Khushman, cook, indispensable helper, and 
family member, told tales of the Baiga folks and their ways. His 
boyhood had been spent in these forest villages of Madhya 
Pradesh, in the hilly country near Pendra. In his late teens he had 
come to the mission compound at Pendra Road, looking for work. 
Hired by a missionary family, the Menzies, he had shown a re¬ 
markable ability to learn and had eventually become their skilled 
cook and "bearer." In 1947, when the Menzies had left India, he 
had come to the Rambos and was to continue as their mainstay 
until 1973, when he would resign to come to America to be with his 
daughter, Ruth Julius, and her family. 

Khushman was a remarkable person, a combination of Jeeves, 
The Admirable Crichton, wildlife authority, and saint. He was as 
able to prepare and serve a full-course English-style dinner as he 
was to cook satisfying camp menus with minimal equipment and a 
fireplace improvised from stones or brick. He picked up languages 
quickly and knew Hindi, Chhattisgarhi (the dialect around Mun- 
geli), Tamil, Punjabi, and English. Usually gentle and polite, he 
could when necessary become stern and forceful. He had great 
stamina and fortitude. Once he had walked many miles in the 
forest to meet the family, not having received word that they would 
come later and pick him up in the car. And with his daughter, a 
nurse, and her doctor husband in Philadelphia, he would become 
equally adaptable, traveling by bus to attend classes in center city, 
keeping their apartment in perfect order, and supervising their two 
little boys when Ruth and Satish were at work. 

"And," Louise commented, "he is one of the finest Christians I 
have ever known. He shared often in family prayers, and his 



194 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


petitions were sincere communication, not formalities. His integ¬ 
rity and responsibility, his selfless devotion to our family and the 
eye work were unfailing." 

Now, simply but dramatically, he told of the Baigas. He de¬ 
scribed how they prepared and kept the tinder for their chak-mak 
(flint and steel lighter), using the fiber of the silk-cotton tree, taking 
a hollowed-out bel fruit with a small hole at the top to keep it in, 
hanging it hole down so that even in rainy weather it stayed dry; 
how they trapped peacocks, digging holes where they came to 
feed; how they smoked out field rats that, unlike the house variety, 
were fit to eat; how when he was a boy herding the family cattle 
a tiger sprang on a cow. He had hit it with a stick, but it had 
not released its quarry, so he had shouted and two men had 
come running. One had hit the tiger with his axe so that it had 
run off, but the cow had been mortally wounded. The memories 
seemed to arouse in Khushman both nostalgia for his youth and 
sadness for the many problems of his people. They talked of 
the fear of the Baigas and other jungle tribes of officials and 
others from the plains, and of their reluctance to accept new 
ways of life. 

"People of the forest areas," said Khushman, "will never be¬ 
come Christians individually. There must be groups of five or six 
families at least, forming small churches to stand together and 
withstand persecution." 

Before leaving for bed Khushman paused at the back door, 
looking into the moonlight, and called Louise to listen to a barking 
deer in the forest. 

One day on this trip Victor was summoned to a village by a man 
whose son, twenty-two years old, was ill with smallpox. Two 
others of his sons had died in this same epidemic, and this was his 
last child of a total of thirteen. 

Victor had had his usual periodic vaccination within three years. 
Thank God, he thought, for Jenner, who discovered that the cow girls 
who had had cowpox did not get smallpox. Arriving at the village, he 
found people in various stages of recovery from the severe 
epidemic that had been sweeping the area. The patient was in the 
dark room off the courtyard. Victor had him brought out and 
placed on a string cot. He was a pitiful and loathsome sight, cov¬ 
ered with pox, face swollen, eyes and lips encrusted with pus. In a 
brass vessel Victor boiled forceps, cotton, hypodermic, and a 
catheter and called for boiled milk and eggs. A woman stood by, 
fanning away flies with a whisk made, apparently, of hair from the 
mane or tail of a horse. Victor mopped and cleaned the eyes and 
mouth and injected penicillin. Then, after many unsuccessful 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


195 


attempts, he managed to pass the catheter into the esophagus and 
give the boy 100 cubic centimeters (cc) of milk and eggs, injecting it 
by syringe into the catheter, 5 cc at a time. 

Returning to the patient later in the day, he found him in the 
same dark room. Again he had him moved into the courtyard, 
which once more filled with spectators. He tried to repeat the 
feeding, but with no success. When he went the next time, he 
found that the patient had died. 

"He was the only one left," mourned the father, "to support us 
when we become feeble, the only one of all our thirteen." Victor 
mourned also. He was sad to lose a patient, but how much sadder 
this father and mother with all their children now dead, the last 
three going in this one smallpox epidemic. 

For Victor the episode was not ended. After attending the pa¬ 
tient, while hunting, he managed to get several pricks in the thorn 
patch, which brought the smallpox virus from his recent contact 
with the patient into virulence through his system. As previous 
vaccinations given routinely had built up his resistance, he was 
able to throw off the infection with only a slight reaction, but the 
center of vision in his left eye was seriously affected and for some 
time posed a threat to his vision. Fortunately the trouble cleared in 
due course, thanks to Dr. Deen, who treated him with cortisone. It 
was his second narrow escape from loss of sight. 

January and February were the busiest months for eye work in 
Mungeli, and Victor spent them there, operating and organizing 
camps. Louise saw Tom off for his last term at Kodai in mid- 
January and began making preparations for breaking up the home 
of nearly thirty-five years. 

Back in Ludhiana in March, Victor plunged into the task of 
teaching, developing mobile eye hospitals, and preparing for their 
continuation during his coming furlough. He presided at the an¬ 
nual meeting of the All-India Ophthalmological Conference in 
Indore, giving the president's address of welcome to India's 
foremost specialists and professors, some of the finest in the 
world. His approach was humble. 

"I have neither the qualifications nor the ability to give an ad¬ 
dress," he said. "The greater part of my life has been spent in a 
village thirty-four miles from the railway, tilling a comparatively 
small piece of professional ground. My contribution to medical 
teaching has been, I hope, just this, that the future doctors may 
know how close and available are the villages of India, the real 
India; that we professional men and women owe the villager 
health; and that when the villager is served he repays with such an 
excess of appreciation and devotion that life itself takes on an 



196 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


exhilaration not found in any other way, or in any other place." 

He proceeded with a thoroughly scholarly paper on ophthal- 
mological problems in India that belied any impression he had 
given of inexperience or incompetence. 

One of his most rewarding experiences during those months 
was a meeting with the prime minister. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. 
"I left a good chuck of my heart with Mr. Nehru," he wrote 
Ambassador Bunker in April. "His interest in the eyes of India is 
very great, especially is he touched by the eyes of children. The 
program for the upgrading of the medical colleges of India, with 
the mobilization to allow the benefits of the science of ophthalmol¬ 
ogy to each villager, brought a keen response. Given about 
$100,000 for each of fifty institutions, it would mean reaching 
50,000 more people with sight each year." 

Always Victor attempted to challenge leaders of government, 
both in India and in other countries, with the possibilities of huge 
investments. He enjoyed meeting famous people, yes, and was 
not above a bit of name-calling, but it was usually done for one 
purpose only, to gain support for his cause in high places. 

For Louise there was finality, it seemed, in every act: packing up 
most of their possessions to be shipped to Philadelphia, where 
they could be stored until needed in the accommodating dry base¬ 
ment of the D. M. Steam Mission; bidding farewell to the tearful 
servants, many of whom had seen the children grow from infancy 
through childhood to adulthood. It was like breaking all family ties 
and leaving for a far country all over again. 

Yet the change could not have been timed better. Tom was 
graduating from Kodai that spring. All threads of the past were 
neatly tied, the pattern of their weaving complete; tied, yes, but 
not cut, for the work at Mungeli and Vellore would remain Victor's 
vital concern—the sending of doctors and nurses for training, the 
providing of equipment, and the giving of counsel to the Indian 
leaders he had trained. In fact, he would continue to be officially 
connected with Mungeli through the mission board. 

The Rambos spent a week in Kodai for Tom's graduation, then 
traveled by car to Cochin, visiting with the family of one of Victor's 
former patients, a leader of the Cochin Jewish community. He took 
them to his synagogue, showed them the scrolls of the Torah, and 
presented them with two bottles of sacramental wine. 

"Absolutely without alcohol," the priest assured them; tasting 
it, finding it very sweet and palatable, Victor was convinced. 
Someone else obviously hoped otherwise, for after they arrived in 
America, the half bottle that was left mysteriously disappeared. 

From Cochin they sailed on an Italian ship to Naples, where a 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


197 


real adventure awaited them. Never had they possessed a car of 
their own, the vans always having been property of the missions 
although provided by the Rambo Committee. A friend, Harrison 
Baldwin, had given them some money through the committee to 
be used personally, and, adding to it some insurance money that 
had come due, they had ordered a Volkswagen "Beetle" to be 
delivered in Naples. Arriving there on a church holiday, they had 
to wait a day, to the impatient Tom's frustration. 

Now 7 began one of the most delicate operations Victor had ever 
performed, driving a new car with a strange gear shift, left side 
drive instead of right as in India, turn to the right instead of the left, 
and obey all the Italian traffic rules! 

It was one of the rare occasions in Victor's life when he welcomed 
back-seat drivers. They passed through Rome, Siena, Como, and 
St. Gothard Pass, which had just opened for the summer, although 
there were still high snow banks on each side of the road; to 
Switzerland, where of course they visited with the Grieshabers at 
Schaffhausen. Victor's old friend Johan had retired, but his son 
Ernst was just as much the perfectionist in creating fine surgical 
instruments and just as generous. 

Here he had the thrill of seeing Ernst forge his keratome from fire 
to the first stage of manufacture, a job no one but Ernst could do. 
Watching the fire heat the steel, a very special stainless steel that 
took and kept its edge, Victor could appreciate why instruments 
made here were so delightful to use, year after year. 

On they went to Heidelberg, Marberg, the Rhine, the Brussels 
Fair in the spring, Rotterdam, and finally New Amsterdam, where 
they loaded the Volkswagen onto the ship to New York, arriving 
about the middle of June 1958. There they were met by Birch and 
Bill, and then they drove on to Philadelphia. 

Wyck! That historic old mansion in Germantown that belonged 
to their friends Robert and Mary Haines was to become home to the 
Rambos that summer and during many more in the future, while 
the Haineses spent their summers at their orchard farms in Berk¬ 
shire County. The oldest standing house in Philadelphia, from its 
beginning in 1690 it had been owned and lived in by nine genera¬ 
tions of one family. The name Wyck (or Wick, as in bailiwick) 
denoted jurisdiction, as of a village or mansion, and was derived 
from the name of an English manor of Haines ownership. Other 
traditions defined Wyck as the Welsh for "white," and the snowy 
walls of the gracious mansion, enclosed with its gardens within a 
high fence, fitted the designation perfectly. It was a palace com¬ 
pared to the mission bungalows of India, yet Louise was as much at 
home with its priceless antiques and spacious vistas as she was 



198 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


with the make-shift furnishings and crowded quarters of the mis¬ 
sion compounds. 

It was an ideal place for a family reunion. They all came—Helen, 
her pastor husband, Wesley, and their children, David, Victor, 
Tom, and Alice; Birch and his Peggy, with their three, Beth, Bill, 
and Jane; Bill, who had just graduated from the University of 
Pennsylvania Medical School and was about to begin internship at 
the University of Michigan Hospital; Barbara, in her third year of 
nurses' training at the Western Reserve School of Nursing; and 
Tom, now bound for the College of Wooster; with of course 
Louise's mother. It was the last time the whole family would be 
together for many years. 

That winter Victor and Louise moved into the house of Margaret 
Haines, while she spent the months in Florida; then they returned 
in the spring to Wyck. "Wondhaps," certainly, this generosity of 
their friends, although Victor always accepted such personal fa¬ 
vors as a matter of course, the proper and natural response to the 
tremendous mission to which he knew himself divinely called. 
Was that egotism? Many people would have called it that, and did, 
including his own children. He was a complex man of diverse 
qualities—supreme self-confidence and abject humility; pride 
and self-negation. His daughter Barbara once gave these divergent 
traits a shrewd and sympathetic appraisal. 

"My father has a great ego. Mother jokes about it and says he's 
the kind that wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse 
at every funeral. He likes to be the center, have his ideas accepted, 
take up challenges. I think that's the kind of person God needed to 
do the work He gave him. When people meet him they don't forget 
him. People will say, 'Twenty—thirty years ago I met your father, 
and this is what he said and did.' Sometimes you find a strength 
that when you turn it around becomes a weakness. This is his great 
strength but also his undoing. He has a hard time giving up ideas, 
doesn't like to change his direction once it has been set. It's uncom¬ 
fortable to be around a person with a life so totally dedicated." 

For Victor, of course, any house was merely a stopping place 
between sorties. Soon after arriving in Philadelphia, he had had a 
complete physical examination that revealed severe parasitism. 
For years he had suffered a rapid heartbeat when overdoing—no 
pain, but an uncomfortable, irregular thump. He would speak to 
his heart, sometimes aloud. 

"Now look-a here. You're working for your Creator, and I'm 
depending on you because if you give up. . . ." 

"You must husband your energies," Dr. Elsom now warned him 
sternly. "At your age and in your condition, you should put in no 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


199 


more than a half day's work." It was like trying to curb a racehorse 
at the start of the home stretch. 

At Harry and Jean Tiedeck's he met with the Rambo Committee, 
now augmented by Tom Ringe and Barton Harrison, who had 
taken the places of their deceased fathers, and by Clarence Kaiser 
and Herman Hettinger. He tried to fill them with the urge to raise 
more money for all his projects, Ludhiana now as well as Mungeli, 
Vellore, and Sompeta, where the Coapullais were at work. He 
collected (begged?) quantities of equipment for all these places and 
then solved the formidable problem of getting it to India. 

"Ten dollars," he told audience after audience, "will give sight to 
one person. A mere ten dollars—think of it!—will literally restore 
the eyes of a blind Indian child, man, or woman!" 

He shuttled back and forth across the country, attending the 
midwinter eye and ear course in Los Angeles, participating in the 
Gill Memorial Lectures at the Eye Congress in Virginia, and speak¬ 
ing in church after church, wheedling, demanding, and all but 
bludgeoning his startled audiences for support; and sometimes he 
got it. 

"What really moved us," commented Joyce Orr, who with her 
husband, Jim, heard Victor speak at Northwestern Christian 
Church in Detroit, "was the way he would interject a heartrending 
plea for our nickels and dimes that we so wantonly spend on 
candy, gum, etc. He would go down on his knees and plead with 
us for those coins to help his beloved India. We were so moved that 
even though we had three children with another to come and were 
trying to make ends meet, we eagerly pledged $100." 

Furlough: "A vacation," the dictionary defines it, "granted to an 
enlisted man. ... A Lay-off from one's usual labor." It was not so 
for Victor. His furloughs were as full and as committed to his life 
purpose as his dawn to dusk days in India. If a few hours of 
unscheduled time became available on his constant tours, he has¬ 
tened to fill them. 

On one furlough Victor was driving with Raymond L. Alber, 
pastor of the East Lincoln Christian Church in Nebraska, to attend 
a banquet meeting. On arriving in Lincoln, he expressed his desire 
to get some rest, because he had been on the road a long time. 

"Let me take you to your hotel," offered Alber. "You'll have time 
to rest before the banquet." 

"Oh, no," said Victor. "I'd like to spend a couple of hours in an 
operating room. Do you know of a doctor who could get me into 
one in a Lincoln hospital?" 

Alber immediately called a deacon in his congregation. Dr. Paul 
Maxwell. 



200 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


''Dr. Victor Rambo!" he exclaimed. "The Dr. Victor Rambo, the 
world famous eye surgeon?" 

"Yes," was the reply. "He is here asking to spend a couple of 
hours in an operating room so he can rest." 

An hour later Victor was in one of Lincoln's great hospitals, 
getting his relaxation in one of the operating rooms. When Alber 
picked him up two hours later, he looked like a rested man. At the 
banquet later, he noticed that Victor ate very little and spent most of 
his time inspecting the eyes of some of the more elderly banquet¬ 
ers. Alber heard him say once, "Get that eye operated on im¬ 
mediately, do it tomorrow, do your hear, no more delay!" 

The next day Victor was asked to go to a television station for an 
interview. Alber would never forget the astonishment of the inter¬ 
viewer when Victor told him that he had removed as many as 
sixty-five cataracts in one day, standing on the stone floor of a 
chapel in India where the seats had been removed. 

"How much money do you make as a surgeon on the mission 
field?" the interviewer inquired. When Victor told him, he gasped. 
"Couldn't you make much more operating in America?" 

"Certainly," Victor replied, "much, much more. In fact, I spent a 
year operating in America and made much more than I ever made 
on a mission field in my whole life." 

"Then why go back to India," demanded the interviewer, "when 
you could get so much more operating in the States?" 

"My friend," Victor replied, "When operating in America I never 
removed a cataract that someone else would not remove if I didn't. 
In India, every cataract I remove would not be removed if I did not 
do it." 

The interviewer was completely silenced. 

On another furlough, his train was sidetracked in Sacramento to 
make way for some troop trains. The delay might last five or six 
hours. Victor started to call churches so that he might attend a 
prayer meeting—and incidentally, of course, get an opportunity to 
tell his story. Finally he called the Freeport Boulevard Christian 
Church. One of the elders, Carl Schultze, was helping his wife, 
Ellen, and other church women prepare for a family-night dinner. 
The scheduled speaker was unable to come. 

"Would you speak to us?" the elder asked hopefully. Of course 
Victor would. 

He had been on the train for several days. His hair was unkempt, 
his suit was unpressed, and he certainly did not fit the popular 
image of a pious missionary, but he soon had them enthralled, 
especially the children, whom he asked to come forward. Victor 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


201 


blindfolded one of them to simulate the feeling of blindness and 
then had Jerry, the Schultzes' youngest, about five, lead him 
around with a broom. Jerry was fascinated. 

When he finished, Victor called on one of the men to close the 
meeting with prayer. The man turned red and blurted, "I—I can't. 
I don't know 7 how." Victor looked astounded and called on another. 
He, too, refused. When the third man turned him down, Victor 
erupted. "Isn't there anyone in this church who knows how to 
pray?" he challenged. Immediately five-year-old Jerry raised his 
hand and came forward. Victor smiled and put his hand on the 
boy's head, saying, "And a little child shall lead them." 

"Bow your heads," ordered Jerry. Ellen Schultze quaked. What 
would come out? She had encouraged free expression in her chil¬ 
dren, and all three had vivid imaginations. Sometimes their 
prayers were definitely unusual about things God must surely 
have chuckled over. 

"Dear God," said Jerry, voice loud and clear, "we thank You for 
sending us Dr. Rambo. TTiank You for all the blind he has made see. 
We pray for the blind of India. Amen." 

No one in the room ever forgot that evening, especially the 
Schultze family. Carl and Ellen directed a drive and sent hundreds 
of pairs of glasses to India. As a teacher of worship for the National 
Council of Churches, Ellen told of the incident often. 

"So your 'chance' encounter," she wrote Victor, "had results that 
you never dreamed of." 

Victor had as friendly a rapport with children in America as he 
did in India. He could relate to them on their level of communica¬ 
tion and understanding. Sometimes when speaking in churches 
he brought along a little bottle of cataracts to show the children. 
After one service, he led them into an adjoining room, showed 
them the ophthalmoscope, had one child lie down on two chairs, 
another play doctor, and let the children look into the eye of the 
"patient." 

Children, men, women, a stranger standing on a street corner 
— all were recipients (victims?) of his inevitable overtures. It was 
impossible for him to be in proximity to anyone, anywhere—on a 
train, bus, airplane, in a waiting room—and not find out who the 
person was and what his interests were; and, incidentally, he 
would also tell him in some detail just who Dr. Rambo was and 
what was his absorbing interest. 

"We were so pleased to receive your letter this week," wrote a 
fellow passenger on a British train, "and hope that you are enjoy¬ 
ing a well earned rest. We were so interested to hear about your 



202 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


work in India." This encounter led to the sending of several 
thousand pairs of used glasses through a Lions Club in southern 
England. 

He had no inhibitions about talking to anyone. Barbara was with 
him once on a trip to Canada. They were having a meal in a 
restaurant, and the waitress was standing by their table after 
bringing their order. "Are you a praying person?" he asked. When 
she said that she was, he said, "Then do please join us in giving 
thanks." At first embarrassed, Barbara decided that, after all, it 
was not an offensive question. The girl could have answered yes or 
no. In fact, Barbara herself came to use the same question when 
talking with her patients. It made a good opening for witnessing to 
one's personal faith. 

Again Barbara had a chance to observe her father's ability to 
involve people in activity at all times and in all places when she was 
finishing nursing school in Cleveland. Some of her friends wanted 
to meet him when he came with his car to drive her back East. They 
came and all were sitting around her room, talking. The atmo¬ 
sphere was formal and polite, the guests much in awe of the tall, 
impressive visitor. Barbara still had some packing to do. 

"Come on, girls, let's help her," said Victor, and soon he had 
everyone at work putting books in boxes and wrapping packages, 
all the while chatting as if he and they were old friends. 

"When you're working together," he said, "you get to know 
people." It had always been his philosophy, and he had never had 
any compunction about putting anybody to work. 

Wherever he went, Victor was still the doctor concerned about 
people's eyes. On another furlough, Jane Brumaghim (she who 
had raised the money for the Mungeli X-ray machine) told him of a 
mutual friend, Maggie, who had undergone several operations for 
an eye condition. Three specialists had told her she would never 
see again. Glasses could give her no help. Jane brought Maggie to 
Philadelphia, and Victor made an appointment with a doctor 
friend to let him use his office. He spent several hours examining 
Maggie, trying different lenses. As the specialists had said, noth¬ 
ing seemed to work. 

"Well," Victor told her, "we've seen what man can't do, now 
we'll see what God will do." He gave her a prescription and told 
her to have it filled. "I know the place where you take it is going to 
question it, because this prescription has never been written be¬ 
fore, to my knowledge, and I don't know how it's going to work, 
but this is what I feel led to try." 

Jane had the glasses made. That was on a Thursday, and on the 
following Sunday she and Maggie went on a picnic, taking along a 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


203 


book by great American poets. Maggie was a lover of poetry. As 
they sat at the picnic table, she was presented with the book. She 
opened it and proceeded to read at least fifteen pages with no 
difficulty. A miracle? Certainly not. It was, perhaps, another 
"wondhap". 

During this furlough of 1958-59, Victor saw his work in India 
blazoned for the first time across America's television screens. The 
film produced by the Smith, Kline and French Pharmaceutical 
Corporation of Philadelphia, M. D. International, dramatized sev¬ 
eral features of the work at Vellore—Dr. Ida surrounded by stu¬ 
dents in the sunken garden, village work conducted by the public 
health worker, Pauline King, and a sequence of an eye camp, with 
Victor himself examining patients and performing surgery. The 
film was seen by an estimated nineteen million people. For him it 
was triumph—and disappointment. 

"A heartache," Victor commented, "because they do not men¬ 
tion our need, so people accept it as a government work needing 
no help, so twenty million people get no challenge out of it, and we 
get nothing out of it except pats on the back." Meanwhile Victor's 
work pictured in the film was cut in half for the lack of three 
thousand dollars. 

In fall 1959 Victor sailed alone from Seattle for India, alone 
because Louise remained in Philadelphia to care for her mother 
who had undergone surgery for a strangulated hernia and was 
enduring a long convalescence. Louise's brother, Tom, had been 
having frequent heart attacks, so Louise's presence seemed im¬ 
perative. She rented an apartment for herself and her mother on 
Greene Street in Germantown and for the first time bade good-bye 
to her roaming husband with no idea when they might meet again. 
Separations they were accustomed to, but seldom with half a 
world between them. 

On to Ludhiana he went, with more teaching, more hospital 
work, some private practice, and, of course, eye camps. There 
followed a year of intense activity, much travel, successes, failures, 
and constant loneliness. Victor's letters to Louise were full of 
details major and minor and expressions of a rare romantic love. 

"How will you feel to be a missionary again? 1 go out into the 
village into a sleeping bag and poor stew (Khushman had little to 
work with) and overwork. But work has never been so reward¬ 
ing." . . . , 

That year he spent Christmas in Mungeli. "I am writing in the 
little shed at the boarding school where eleven children who could 
not get home for Christmas are staying. Six of them are watching 
me type, with 'Oh's' and 'Ah's.' Bungalow is cold except in morn- 





204 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


ing or evening when I have a fire and sit almost in the fireplace. 
What fun and wonderful joy we have had in the Lai [Red] Bun¬ 
galow that is now cream colored and called Bungalow Number 3!" 

In January he sent the welcome news that the Edinburgh Royal 
College of Surgeons had awarded him the F.R.C.S. without 
examination. "Am deeply touched and humbled." 

In March he went out on a succession of eye camps with Jagir 
Masih, driver and assistant organizer, Khushman, two staff 
nurses, and Sister Ruby Holmes, a missionary with the Church of 
England. She had had public health training but had been put in 
maternity and was unhappy there, and she was delighted to fill the 
need in Victor's mobile eye hospitals. "She is unbelievable," was 
Victor's appraisal. "[She] is our secretary, keeps all our accounts as 
well as being an exceedingly efficient nurse, and orders me about 
at times." They went far into the Himalayan foothills. 

"If there is a longer ghat and mountain side and canyon road I 
have not seen it. It was Friday morning when we started and six 
that evening when we arrived with a much too heavy trailer in 
Pathankot. There we rested for the night and came yesterday over 
a further 90 miles of mountain road, much of it with snow-capped 
peaks about and scenery to make even an old traveling hand like 
me just gasp and scarcely be able to take a breath, sometimes in the 
beauty, sometimes in the danger, for there were times on hairpin 
turns that were certainly complete turns. For thirteen miles there 
were a lot of precipitous places being dynamited, and there were 
overhanging places. . . . 

"Two old women at the Kum Kalam camp after being blind for 
six and three years respectively both looked out with the plus tens 
and, seeing, just fainted away and fell on the floor. It was too 
wonderful for them to stand. . . . 

"If I die will the work that has been helped through me all these 
years just flop? I pray not. Even though we do 1500 more cataract 
operations this year than last, there is so much more to do! 

"Dearest, my love and joy, my pride and my hope, I get so filled 
up with the message of love I would send to you that I can scarcely 
contain myself. . . . You wonderful (and sometimes perplexing as 
every woman should be, of course) and dear and wise and gracious 
woman!" 

And on the back of a camp announcement for the village of Kum 
Kalam, written in both English and Punjabi, he scrawled: 
"Dearest, I went down the road walking along last night with my 
arms swinging, hugging the air in the little moonlight alone, say¬ 
ing over with a little hum, 'She is mine. She is mine. She, Louise, is 
mine.' Gladness filled my heart, and I really did thank God for 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


205 


you, and for Him who gave you to me. A good camp at Kum 
Kalam. BUT I WANT TO COME HOME/' 

He did go home in June 1960. Louise's mother had died in May. 
They spent another summer at Wyck, then left together in Sep¬ 
tember, flying to Switzerland, going by train to Venice, by ship to 
Aden, and then by freighter to Bombay. To the surprise of Victor's 
colleagues, they arrived in Ludhiana exactly when due, on Sep¬ 
tember 30. As yet there was no permanent bungalow available for 
them, so they were given a room in Lai Kothi at the Medical 
College, later a house in a staff area called Honeycomb Terrace. As 
usual, the Longdon Circle of the Kensington Christian Church in 
Philadelphia, one of their more loyal and constant supporters 
through the years, sent them a substantial Christmas gift; and as 
usual Louise sent thanks to the group in a letter to their close friend 
Isabel Currie. 

"Victor said right away that it would be a good idea to use it for 
some rugs," she wrote, "probably the felt niimdas that are made in 
Kashmir and are not at all expensive here. The houses here are 
built for keeping cool in the hot weather—high ceilings, thick 
masonry walls, cement floors—so when the temperature gets 
down into the 40s or lower, they are a bit chilly. The numdas will 
help to keep our feet warm, and we'll remember you all gratefully 
as we enjoy them. . . . Day after tomorrow the eye camp team will 
go to a village about forty miles from here for the fourth eye camp 
since we returned from the States, and the last one until after the 
New Year." 



11 


I five had not come here. . . . 

JL Time and again the words beat against Victor's conscious¬ 
ness during the years of the sixties as the team from Ludhiana 
thrust its lifelines far into the hinterland of the Punjab and beyond. 

Ifzve had not come here this three-year-old child, whom we have 
saved just by giving an injection of vitamin A, would have gone 
blind. 

This village woman would not be pleading, "Show me my baby, 
please show me my baby, doctor!" and this light of joy would never 
have come into her face. 

This girl of fourteen, unable to open her eyes since she was four 
because of inturned lashes caused by a strong caustic applied to her 
eye lids by a quack would not know the comfort of lids that can 
open and close without suffering and eyes that can see. 

Never had the eye camp program been more encouraging or 
more challenging. With Ludhiana as the hub, spokes were reach¬ 
ing out into a wide area covering not only the Punjab but also the 
states of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. They were held, as 
formerly, in a variety of places: schoolhouses, mission hospitals, 
buildings attached to Sikh temples, and tents erected for the pur¬ 
pose by the district Red Cross Society. Always they were kept as 
simple as possible without sacrificing a high standard of ophthal¬ 
mology and surgical technique. Equipment for diagnosis, includ¬ 
ing a slit-lamp microscope, and for surgery, folding operating 
tables, instruments, sterile supplies, pressure cooker and medica¬ 
tion, was brought in the ambulance and trailer from Ludhiana. 
Each camp lasted about fourteen days, one for travel, one for 
settling in, one for clinic, two for surgery, and eight for convales¬ 
cence. They followed the same pattern: initial confusion with 
crowds of patients, their relatives and interested bystanders mil¬ 
ling around; gradual establishment of order, with centers for regis¬ 
tering patients, testing vision, examination, and diagnosis; operat- 

206 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


207 


ing; wards for convalescence; development of a fine spirit of coop¬ 
eration as students, teachers, and local citizens got into the act as 
enthusiastic helpers, carrying stretchers, guiding patients, and 
holding flashlights for operations. 

Often the village young people would join the camp team when 
at the end of the busy day, all would relax after dinner. Sitting on 
the ground around a pressure lantern (if there was no electricity), 
all would sing hearty Punjabi hymns to the thumping rhythm of a 
small drum and in the south to the melodies of the violin-playing 
cook. Camps could be held on the plains only in the fall and winter 
season, but as the heat mounted so did the teams, venturing 
higher and higher into the foothills of the Himalayas, working in 
remote villages until the coming of the monsoon rains. There 
might be ten or twelve camps a year, with anywhere from five 
hundred to a thousand operations performed. That the work won 
favorable acclaim from government as well as local agencies was 
evidenced by a signal honor paid to Victor in 1961. 

"You will be pleased to learn," wrote the commissioner of the 
Jullundur division of the Punjab, "that a Punjab Sarkar Praman 
Patra has been granted to you in recognition of your services 
rendered to the administration and public during the year 1959- 
60." It was an award of which any foreigner might be proud. 

Always Victor's primary concern was the training of young 
Indians to follow in his footsteps. He could well be satisfied with 
the eye specialists he had left behind him: Christopher Deen in 
Mungeli; Roy Ebenezer and Anna Thomas in Vellore; as offshoots, 
John Coapullai and wife in Sompeta, T. M. Thomas and wife in 
Khurai; here in Ludhiana it was to be Arin Chatterjee, Richard 
Daniel, and Chopra; and in Amritsar Daljit Singh. 

Arin came to the college in 1962 as lecturer in physiology, but he 
was also interested in ophthalmology. He volunteered for eye 
camps and became so enthusiastic that in 1963 he went to Chan¬ 
digarh for a two-year residence for Master of Surgery in ophthal¬ 
mology. Returning, he became a member of the Rambo family, 
adapting himself beautifully to their ways, never protesting at 
having to eat bland Western food and even insisting on helping 
with the dishes. If Khushman was not there, he would run to the 
kitchen and start washing dishes before Louise could get there. A 
Bengali from Calcutta, educated in one of the finest colleges, he 
belonged to the Brahmo Samaj sect of Hinduism, worshipers of 
one God and dedicated humanitarians. He was a perfectionist in 
his work, and he became a skilled surgeon and teacher. 

Victor was officially retired by his own mission board in 1962, but 
the Rambo Committee assumed his support, and he was able to 



208 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 



Dr. Arin Chatterjee performs a cataract operation by flashlight in a mobile 
eye hospital. Banarsi Dass, R.N., holds the flashlight while 
Victor observes. 


continue his work in India all through the decade of the sixties and 
into the seventies. The committee developed new vitality and 
leadership through Raleigh and Joanne Birch (no relation to 
Louise's family), active members of the Marple Christian Church in 
Broomall. Raleigh, an engineer who had ably assisted in providing 
parts for the village ambulances, soon became an efficient and 
enthusiastic member of the committee, with Joanne an able ally It 
was the Birches who arranged for a luncheon honoring Victor and 
Louise in the Constitution Room of the Sheraton Hotel in Philadel¬ 
phia in September 1966, just before they returned to India for the 
winter season. 

During these years, life for the Rambos followed a consistent 
pattern, most of the year in Ludhiana but about three months in 
the summer back in America at Wyck. They were in Philadelphia in 
July 1961 for Bill's wedding to Sara Williamson; there in 1962 to 
inspect Bill's month-old baby, William M. Rambo, Jr., and to see 
Barbara married to Dr. Tom Hoshiko, a Western Reserve medical 
college professor, in July; then in September to speed Tom Rambo 
off to graduate school at Ohio State University, and to welcome 
Stephen Walters into the world at Marissa, Illinois. Victor flew to 
India to be there for the teaching term, leaving Louise to come 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


209 


again by freighter. The death of Tom, her brother, in December 
brought sadness to a year filled with joyful events. 

They lived literally in two worlds, and with all the comings and 
goings there was frequent overlapping between them. "Since last 
April," Louise wrote in November 1964, "we have followed for the 
most part our usual migratory pattern: hill eye camps (Palampur 
and Kulu); two hot, busy weeks in Ludhiana during which we 
welcomed Barbara and Tom Hoshiko and little Kathy and turned 
over our quarters to them for the summer; and two months in the 
States. 

"In Philadelphia we once more enjoyed the lovely hospitality of 
Wyck. Victor regained the 25 pounds he had lost. We had a good 
visit with Birch and Peggy and their three children in North 
Carolina and on September 2nd we saw them off for Congo where 
they will serve for three years. By mid-September we were back in 
Ludhiana. Kathy had learned to walk. Tom's voluntary service in 
the physiology department in Ludhiana had been greatly appreci¬ 
ated and both he and Barbara had made many friends. After a few 
days of whirlwind packing all five of us left for Kulu, the first 
post-monsoon eye camp; then the Hoshikos flew to Delhi and on 
to Tokyo. Kulu was delightful—apple harvest time, the hillside 
villages gay with masses of bright red chili-peppers and orange- 
yellow com, spread out to dry on the roofs. 

"Sadhinager, an old town about 40 miles from Ludhiana near 
Ferozpur, was the site of our second camp. Though it was the 
Dusserah holiday season, patients came in such numbers that we 
were almost swamped. Altogether, from October 14th to 30th, 1415 
patients were examined, and 163 operations were done. One of the 
patients was an old man who gave his age as 120, later admitted 
that it might be a mere 110, but no less. He did well and went home 
happy with the results of his operation. Another patient developed 
alarming symptoms a few days after his operation and gave the 
nurses a bad time until they learned that he was an opium addict 
and had not been getting his usual 'ration.' His relatives made 
arrangements to get this for him, after which he convalesced 
rapidly. 

"About five minutes walk from the camp was a 300-year-old kila, 
castle, whose owners were once rulers of this area. When we called 
there we entered through a gate big enough to admit an elephant, 
and found an amazing combination of the old and the new—in 
one courtyard a modern farm tractor, in another an ancient open 
carriage and a curtained cart such as upper class purdah ladies 
used to travel in. The charming college-educated daughter of the 



210 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


owner welcomed us in fluent English and showed us around. She 
was not permitted by her grandmother to be seen on the streets of 
the village, and could not visit the eye camp." 

During one camp in the Kulu Valley, Victor saw a tall, obviously 
Western woman moving among the patients. He recognized her 
immediately, for a few days before Ambassador and Mrs. Chester 
Bowles had stopped at the rough shelter in which he and Louise 
were staying during the days of the camp. As Victor went to greet 
her, she smilingly introduced him to a hill woman, a Tibetan 
refugee who was holding the hand of a young girl. 

"See, Doctor," she said. "My husband and I have brought you a 
patient." She explained further. "We were driving up to the town 
of Manali, and just before we arrived we saw this blind woman 
beside the road, being led by this little girl. Of course we could not 
speak the language, and we did not stop, but our driver went back 
and talked with her and asked how long she had been blind. We 
knew you were holding this camp nearby, so we went back and 
picked her up and brought her here. I do hope you can help her." 

Victor could. The woman had operable cataracts, and he re¬ 
moved them. She was able to see. This was only one of the 
instances when Mrs. Bowles participated in the work of medical 
missions in India. In a clinic conducted by a church group in a 
village near Delhi, she was often seen helping with the greeting of 
patients, the giving out of medicines, serving in every way possi¬ 
ble, often wearing the Punjabi style of dress, full trousers tapering 
to the ankles and long overblouse. 

Later she would express her impressions of the meetings with 
her new American friends, the Rambos. 

"Dr. Rambo? He was so enthusiastic! First compassionate, then 
terribly enthusiastic. He has a positive way of thinking that things 
can be better, and when it happens, as with the woman we brought 
to him, he is overjoyed. I think he was rather impressed that my 
husband, the ambassador, had also some compassion and had 
brought the woman to him. When we were leaving he hung on to 
us and thanked us, and then he prayed for us. I will never forget it. 
He looked up at the sky and asked God's blessing on the great 
American ambassador and his wonderful wife! How humble it 
made us feel!" 

Victor never missed an opportunity to meet government leaders, 
especially Americans, and stress the importance of his work, as 
when Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to Ludhiana to visit 
the Agricultural University. Always he attempted to challenge 
with a vision of what the millions spent in foreign aid, often used 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


211 


unwisely and ill received, in his opinion, might accomplish if he 
had his way. 

"We met in Ludhiana," he wrote the vice president soon after. "I 
told you of the impact that a service like Christ's healing, giving 
sight to the blind, would make on the donors and on those given 
to. I told you of five million persons blind with operable cataract in 
the villages of India who will never see unless they have the 
removal of their cataracts. I hastily gave a plan to do a hundred 
thousand more operations a year through a hundred eye institu¬ 
tions already functioning but hopelessly understaffed for the job 
and having no transportation nor instrumentation. This is a job 
worthy of a great nation. . . . Let's use the intelligence we have and 
do something against which there is no possibility of misunder¬ 
standing or objection. . . . May I see you the latter part of June or 
the first week of July, please? It might mean a new day for a million 
people." 

"A hundred thousand . . . millions." Victor's versions were 
always depicted with a big, splashing brush on a giant canvas. 

The air travel between India and America gave him opportuni¬ 
ties for many profitable stopovers in England, Scotland, Switzer¬ 
land, Holland, and Germany. One loyal supporter of the eye 
camps was the Christoffel Blindenmission in Bensheim, Germany, 
founded by Ernest J. Christoffel, called "father to the blind of the 
Orient." Started as a mission to the blind of Iran where Christoffel 
had been a missionary, it now ministered to the handicapped in 
over forty countries, and Victor's projects were among its bene¬ 
ficiaries. While visiting Bensheim on one of his trips, Victor had a 
strong desire to interview a certain eminent ophthalmologist. Pro¬ 
fessor Doden, in Frankfurt. 

"Would it be possible?" he asked Herr Stein, director of overseas 
operations. 

"I'm afraid not without an appointment. He's a very important 
person." 

"Well," said Victor with his usual optimism, "Let's try it. I have a 
feeling," he added with a smile, "that God may already have made 
an appointment for us." 

Arriving at the professor's office, they found the great man at 
liberty and willing to receive them. "Were you expecting me?" 
asked Victor. 

"Of course not." The professor looked surprised. "I had no idea 
you were coming." 

"And I wasn't expecting to come," replied Victor, "But since we 
have now met, God must have arranged it." They had a cordial 
conversation during which Victor was able to give an eloquent 



212 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


description of his work in India. Then he was invited into the 
professor's clinic. Inside the door he stopped, speechless, gazing 
at the wealth of beautiful ophthalmologic equipment spread all 
about. "What is it? Is anything the matter?" asked the professor, 
surprised by the look of pained absorption on his guest's face. 

"It's just seeing all this beautiful equipment," confessed Victor, 
"and thinking of its being used for a few people in Frankfurt 
whereas millions of blind in India have to do without it." 

The professor, who had been much moved by Victor's story, said 
in a remarkable fit of generosity, "I understand. Take what you 
want of it." 

To the intense embarrassment of Herr Stein, Victor proceeded to 
do just that. Before he finished he had collected several large boxes 
of valuable equipment that would be a godsend to one or more of 
his stations in India. Smiling, giving no indication of worry, the 
professor stood, watching. 

The boxes were unloaded at Victor's room at the mission guest 
house. The next morning he could be seen jigging on the sidewalk 
outside the house, collecting a bevy of delighted children. Al¬ 
though he could not speak German, there seemed to be perfect 
understanding between them. Soon all disappeared. Tracing them 
to Victor's room, Herr Stein found the children busily wrapping all 
the eye instruments carefully in toilet paper, rolls of which they 
had collected from here, there, and everywhere. 

The next day he was driving Victor with his baggage, including 
the extra boxes, once more to Frankfurt to take the plane to India, 
and they were both worrying about the excess luggage. Would the 
2,000 deutschemarks that Victor had with him be enough to pay 
for it? 

"Brother, let's have a word of prayer," said Victor as they started 
off, "but don't you close your eyes. Remember, you're driving." 

At the airport Victor sauntered off toward the Air India counter, 
leaving Herr Stein to follow with the baggage. Curiously enough, 
he soon met a steward from the Indian airline, a German, who 
looked familiar. "Hello, brother," he greeted. "Do you know me?" 

Astonishingly the man said, "Yes, I know you. You are the eye 
surgeon from the Punjab." 

"It's a nice day, isn't it? Victor continued. 

"Yes, sir, it's a fine day." 

"Did you have a good breakfast?" 

"Sure. A fine one." 

"And did you thank God for it?" 

Nonplussed, the steward made no reply. "Then let's thank Him 
for it, brother," Victor said. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


213 


Arriving with the cart piled high with luggage, Herr Stein was 
dumfounded to see Victor kneeling in front of a long, impatient 
queue of passengers waiting to be cleared in this busiest airport in 
Europe, the steward meanwhile standing, eyes wide open, franti¬ 
cally gesticulating to the agent at the counter to clear the baggage 
without weighing it. By the time Victor had finished the prayer, his 
baggage had been cleared and no money had been charged. Bid¬ 
ding the secretary a cheery good-bye, off he went. 

Still embarrassed about the professor, Herr Stein called him the 
next morning and offered to compensate him in some way for the 
equipment taken away by Dr. Rambo. To his surprise Professor 
Doden laughed goodnaturedly, then replied with the utmost ear¬ 
nestness, “Those instruments are going to have the best use they 
ever had. If Dr. Rambo ever comes to Germany again, please bring 
him back to my clinic/' 

This was by no means the only instance of Victor's happy 
encounters with the world's transportation systems. In 1962 Dr. 
Edward Van Eck, in the microbiology department at Vellore, had a 
retinal detachment. Vellore was not having retinal detachments 
after surgery, so that field had not been developed. Victor decided 
that Ed must be flown to Amsterdam for care by Professor A. 
Hagedoorn, an ophthalmologist there, so he flew with him minus 
a visa, “talking" his way there and back. 

Once, in London, Victor was traveling by taxi from the airport to 
the home of young Victor Choudhrie and his wife. (While studying 
in London, the young doctor had dropped the “a" from his name, 
making it easier to pronounce.) Victor talked to the driver so 
impressively about his work that on reaching the destination the 
driver refused to take any money from him. In fact, the next day he 
came back to deliver Victor to the airport free of charge. 

Was there egotism in Victor? Yes. But it was balanced by a keen 
sense of self-identification with the cause that was his obsession 
and by a complete disregard for other people's opinions. He cared 
little for appearance. 

Once, Dr. Choudhrie remembered, he came from America to 
Vellore after a short furlough, carrying just one suitcase. When he 
opened it, it was full of eye instruments. Tucked underneath was 
only one pair of cotton trousers, with a shirt. After a shower he 
came out dressed in this outfit, the pants at least three inches above 
his ankles. By mistake, the only pair of trousers he had brought 
from the States belonged to his son Tom, then a mere stripling. 
Victor wore them without concern. 

When in Chicago he usually stopped in the home of Pastor C. G. 
Kindred, for many years pastor of the Englewood Christian 



214 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Church. Nancy Berg, Kindred's secretary, became not only Victor's 
secretary as well but also his valet and maid. When she was not 
holding a dictation book and pencil all the time he was there, she 
was unpacking his big old suitcase, hurrying the dirty clothes 
downstairs to the washer and getting them on the line, preparing a 
meal for him, and typing his letters. 

One day when he had to catch a train immediately, Nancy failed 
to get the top belt of his trousers dry; but with Kindred's blessing, 
away they went down Lake Shore Drive, with Victor holding his 
trousers outside the car window to the breeze, getting the full¬ 
blown wind to dry them enough to put in his suitcase, and as usual 
thinking of people they had been discussing who were in need of 
prayer. 

"Nancy," he would say, "slow up. We must pray for him." 
Obediently she would pull off to the side and bow her head while 
the pants, hanging limply, postponed their battle with the breeze 
and Victor petitioned the Almighty. They made the train, and the 
pants, sufficiently dry, went into the suitcase. 

"You should explain," protested Victor, hearing her relate the 
incident, "that I did have another pair of pants to wear. But what a 
ride! You and Brother Kindred always send me off on my way with 
Christian hilarity!" 

But always it was the months in India, work concentrated largely 
in the villages, for which all other activity was merely preparation, 
marking time. "Magnificent cheer in living, pure joy," Victor wrote 
to friends in 1964. "We did eleven eye service camps in villages in 
1963 and turned down eleven invitations." By this time he himself 
during his nearly forty years of service had restored sight to over 
forty thousand people in ten thousand villages. Still, he felt, his 
work was barely begun. Always his horizons widened. 

Ever since his first eye camp in the beautiful Kulu Valley, he had 
dreamed of going over the Rohtang Pass, 13,400 feet high, beyond 
Manali, to work in the sparsely populated high valleys of the 
frontier province of Lahaul and Spiti. Plans were made in June 
1965. Although Victor himself was not able to go, Dr. Arin Chatter- 
jee took a survey group there in July, and the rest of the team 
followed in August. Dr. Simon Franken of Holland, a professor in 
the Christian Medical College eye department, went with them as 
surgeon. The project was assisted by a grant from the United States 
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and was to feature 
research as well as service, making a survey of eye conditions and 
the causes of blindness in those high mountain areas. 

It was region never before visited by a mobile eye hospital 
research team. Hazards of travel were stupendous—nonexistent 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


215 


roads, uncooperative pack mules that dropped loads over cliffs, 
bad weather, failure of promised transport to reach distant villages, 
and the necessity of sleeping on cold, wet floors, surrounded by 
centipedes. Arin proved his mettle by meeting every emergency 
with skill and courage. When the Lahauli boy hired to help with 
the chores around camp refused to carry water because he was 
educated and thought such labor beneath him, Arin persuaded 
him by carrying half of it himself. 

They found a striking contrast between the Lahaul Valley, av¬ 
eraging ten thousand feet above sea level, and the Kulu Valley, 
where many of the eye camps were held. Kulu was green with 
pine-clad mountains, whereas Lahaul was barren and rocky, with 
huge, graceful, snow-clad peaks standing against a turquoise sky. 
Most of the villages surveyed were on steep slopes approachable 
only by footpaths. The team visited eighty-eight villages, giving 
eye examinations to nearly five hundred persons, finding the 
percentage of defective vision very high but in most cases curable. 
Many blind people had their vision restored. The area offered a 
wonderful opportunity for visits by mobile units, if only the money 
and staff could be provided. 

This was the beginning of regular camps in this remote area, 
resulting in many dramatic experiences. For instance, there was 
the Buddhist lama named Chhawang, who lived in a gompa 
(monastery) in this mountain district. For four years he had been 
blind. 

"There is a team of doctors," his friend Dorji, a young lama, told 
him eagerly, "Who are working in Rangrick in the Spiti Valley. 
There are making the blind to see. Let us go to them, master." 

But by the time the lama reached Rangrick in late August, Arin 
and his team, fearing that storms would cut off their return to the 
plains, had left. For three and a half years the lama waited, hoping 
that another summer would bring the eye surgeon and his team to 
Spiti. At last he decided that he must act. Dorji, who could speak 
Hindi and had traveled outside of Spiti, would go with him. If the 
doctor could not come to Rangrick, they must go to him. Money for 
expenses was collected, alms given by friends and relatives, and a 
donation came from the gompa. It was March when snows had 
begun to melt, the time to go. Later the hot weather in the Punjab 
plains would be unbearable for mountain people. 

It took four days for them to reach Sumbo, about forty kilometers 
through the mountains. Lama Chhawang rode whatever animal 
was available—yak, dzo, mule, pony — led by Dorji from village to 
village. From Sumdo they traveled four more days in the noisy, 
crowded, uncomfortable buses that bumped over rough roads and 



216 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


reeked of tobacco smoke and diesel fumes. At last they came to 
Ludhiana. 

All along the way, people had suggested that they might find an 
eye doctor in a nearer place, Simla or Chandigarh, but no. They 
trusted only the doctor from Ludhiana who had cared enough to 
come and help the people of Spiti. His patients there had told them 
that he was not only skillful but also kind and loving. 

From the bus terminal in Ludhiana, a four-kilometer ride in a 
rickshaw brought them at last to the Christian Hospital. Crowds 
filled the entrance. How could they find their doctor among so 
many? But a friendly attendant guided them to the eye depart¬ 
ment. Suddenly they heard a word of greeting in their own Bhuti 
language, and Dorji saw a man in a white coat coming to meet them 
with a warm smile of welcome. It was Dr. Chatterjee himself. The 
taking of the case history was lengthy, for it meant translation from 
Bhuti to Hindi and back to Bhuti and included news of the Spiti 
Valley and greetings to the doctor from his former patients; but 
finally the lama was admitted to the ward and Dorji was given a 
place in the relatives' quarters where he could prepare food for 
both his patient and himself. The travelers soon felt at home even 
in this strange place, and they liked to hear the hymns sung every 
morning by the nurses, although they could not understand the 
words of these or of the prayers offered before surgery. 

Both of Lama Chhawang's cataracts were operated on success¬ 
fully. The healing was complete and two pairs of glasses were 
given, one for distance, one for reading. The doctor took out a 
schoolbook that he had brought from Spiti, and Lama Chhawang 
found to his delight that he could read again. He would be able to 
see the mountains, the footpaths, the food in his bowl, and the 
faces of his friends and pupils. 

At the hospital gate, under the flaming blossoms of the gol mohr 
trees, the lamas said good-bye to their doctor and started back over 
the same long, rough road, taking with them a portion of the 
gospel in the Bhuti language, the joy of the Christian friendship 
they had found, and, of course, two eyes with sight restored. 

Certainly Victor had spread his web of influence far afield, 
stretching around the world. On their way back to India in 1965, he 
and Louise visited the Bulape Hospital in central Zaire, where 
Birch had gone the previous year as a medical missionary. After 
taking his academic surgical residency at the University of Penn¬ 
sylvania, Birch had planned to return to India to teach surgery; but 
there had been health problems, and he and Peggy had spent six 
years in Appalachia. Now, under the Southern Presbyterian Board 
he was in a small bush hospital, serving in an area that had only 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


217 


one physician for every twenty thousand people. During the ten 
days of his visit, Victor gave his son a rush course in ophthalmol¬ 
ogy, teaching him techniques of glaucoma and cataract operations 
so that he was able to perform such surgery successfully. After¬ 
ward Birch said, "Tve had two weeks residency in ophthalmology 
with my father!" 

In Zaire, Victor discovered, there were only four eye surgeons 
for fourteen million people. One woman walked with her blind- 
with-cataracts husband five hundred miles for an operation. Al¬ 
though he had hoped Birch would specialize in ophthalmology 
and, of course, come to India, Victor derived much satisfaction 
from this brief partnership. Thereafter the work in Zaire became 
one of the Rambo Committee projects. 

Ophthalmologic specialists from many countries continued to 
minister for varying periods in all three of the India missions. 
There was Dr. A. Lawrence Samuels of New Jersey, who had lived 
with the Rambos for three months in 1955 and who wrote with 
appreciation: "They treated all people as fellow human beings. 
They are religious without being sanctimonious. All the doctors, 
nurses, technical helpers were Indians. This is 'operation boot¬ 
strap,' helping people to help themselves." 

Victor had visited in the Samuels' home in Plainfield, New Jersey 
and they had met in Brussels at the International Congress of the 
Ophthalmology Society; again in New Delhi, where Victor and an 
All India Ophthalmological members group had persuaded the 
council to meet in 1962. 

"I'll never forget that meeting," reported Dr. Samuels. "Indians 
went all out to make this a wonderful Congress. Nehru was pre¬ 
sent. Dr. Radhakrishnan, the President of India, opened it. Victor 
was very much in evidence." 

Now Dr. Samuels came again to India in 1967 and gave a course 
on eye pathology to the staff and students of Ludhiana, staying 
with the Rambos in their cottage in Model Town. "I especially 
enjoyed their cuisine prepared by their old cook from Mungeli, 
Khushman. While there I attended the marriage of Khushman's 
daughter Ruth, a trained nurse, to a senior medical student. Dr. 
Rambo took me on a trip to Simla to arrange for sites for eye camps 
for the coming summer. It was like a voyage to Shangri-la. The 
activity of this man already well past seventy was abounding. He 
never seems to age." 

There were Dr. Bauman from Switzerland, who assisted in four 
camps in 1961, and Dr. Rudolph Bock of Palo Alto, California, who 
worked with the team that same year and whose visit gave a 
tremendous boost to the eye department and students. It was good 



218 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


to have his cheery companionship as they huddled around the 
fireplace in Ludhiana, trying to keep warm during those chilly 
days of the Punjab winter. There were Dr. Lester T. Jones of 
Portland, Oregon, Dr. Robert Andrew of Detroit, Michigan, and 
Dr. Marius Augustin of Bern, Switzerland. Dr. Christopher Deen 
from Mungeli and Dr. Anna Thomas from Vellore also came to 
Ludhiana to lend their services. 

People from many countries came to visit as well as to assist in 
the eye camps, and always they went away marveling. 

"We saw a long double row of tents," reported Charles Rey¬ 
nolds, the American secretary for Ludhiana on a visit to a camp in 
the little village of Dhamote, "in front of what was obviously a 
village school. As we pulled up in front of the building a tall 
angular figure dressed in a short, high-buttoned doctor's jacket 
bounded out of the doorway. 

" 'Welcome to you, one and all,' he cried. 'You are just in time to 
see us start the cataract operations.' He threw his arm affection¬ 
ately around the shoulder of our driver and said, 'Tony, did you 
bring the streptomycin? Wonderful stuff that! Lord, we thank You 
for streptomycin and all the other wonder-drugs that do so much 
for the healing of man. We thank You for bringing these friends 
safely. Now may they see and understand the true importance of 
the work among the blind. OK everybody! Let's get to work!' " 

By the time Reynolds and his party had recovered from this 
introduction to Victor Rambo, the team was busy preparing pa¬ 
tients, one with shaving soap and razor; another swabbing an 
antiseptic on the operation area; another measuring eye tension 
with a tonometer. 

"Come on now, everybody," Victor ordered, "put on a mask, 
cap, and gown. We don't want to run the risk of infection, and 
please leave your shoes outside. Only slippers here, please." 

Fascinated, the visitors watched the team operate at three tables 
in perfect coordination, Victor performing surgery at one table, 
then leaving the suturing and dressing to a young assistant and 
moving to a second table. Arin Chatterjee operated at a third table 
alone. Nurses held flashlights while the doctors unerringly guided 
their scalpels, for the electricity was inadequate and uncertain. On 
a stand beside the large table containing instruments, a pressure 
stove was boiling a dish of distilled water, sterilizing instruments 
as needed. They saw the patients removed on stretchers, passing a 
table at which Louise sat, inscribing each one's record on a card; 
saw the tents converted into hospital wards, each one holding 
six to eight cots and each patient provided with warm blankets 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


219 


and having a relative or friend to care for him; saw and marveled. 

Almost as vigorous in activity as Victor himself was another 
member of the team, a young Indian, Jagir Masih. Officially the 
driver and organizer, the "teller of good news," announcing, ar¬ 
ranging locations and facilities, his duties seemed boundless. He 
greeted new patients and relatives. He helped to settle disputes. 
His knowledge of many languages —not only Hindi, Urdu, Pun¬ 
jabi, and English but also many dialects—seemed sufficient for 
him to communicate with all. He had served in the Indian army 
during World War II and had had wide experience. Although not 
trained in medicine, he had an uncanny instinct for correct diag¬ 
nosis and could anticipate every move of the surgeons, help the 
optician on the team to fit glasses, and, perhaps most important of 
all, act as a buffer between his chief and all the demands constantly 
being made upon him. "Dr. Rambo is a good man," he insisted, 
"but people do try sometimes to take advantage of him. We must 
protect him and save his strength for the wonderful work he is 
doing." 

But they could not protect him from all crises diverting him from 
his main purpose, to bring sight to human beings, and perhaps it 
was well they could not. There w^as one experience in the towm of 
Raipur-Majri, about forty miles from Ludhiana, that, although it 
was certainly a diversion, Victor nevertheless wx>uld not have 
missed for the world. 

Raipur-Majri was a rural welfare center set in the midst of fields 
of sugar cane, cotton, wheat, com, and mustard. Built by a retired 
Indian, Nagendar Singh, as his lifelong project for the welfare of 
his neighbors, the center included a school, a rural dispensary and 
matemitv clinic, a veterinary dispensary, a Sikh temple, a coopera¬ 
tive storehouse, and a combined library and rest house in w’hich 
most of the team members slept and ate. While there they had 
some of the coldest weather of winter, with the predawn tempera¬ 
ture dowm to freezing on several days. 

They were holding their dispensary in the school building when 
a local farmer came down the road, leading his camel. Stopping by 
the school, he inquired for the "Doctor Sahib." 

"You are an eye doctor," he said when Victor appeared. "You 
take care of eye troubles. My camel has trouble with his eye. 
Please, Sahib, you fix it." 

Victor lowered his gaze from the haughty countenance of the 
beast to the pleading face of the farmer. "I— Y m sorry, brother. You 
see. I'm not a veterinarian. I take care of people's eyes, not ani¬ 
mals." 



220 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


The farmer was stubborn. "You fix a man's eye, so you can fix my 
camel's eye. He is my friend, one of my family. I need him. Sahib. 
You must help him." 

Victor understood. The farmer depended on the beast for his 
very life. He had cured an elephant once, had he not? Why not a 
camel? The team went to work, Victor tying down the camel. Local 
anesthesia; surgery on the injured member; dressing; a beautiful 
bandage; it was an operation as careful and sanitary as if they had 
been operating on a human being. And to the grateful farmer and 
doubtless to the arrogant beast looking down his nose at his bene¬ 
factor, it was just as important. 

As all through his life, Victor's associates here in Ludhiana 
stored up personal details and anecdotes of Victor to be remem¬ 
bered and related: how when he scrubbed for surgery he would lift 
his soap-lathered hands and give them a greeting, "How do you 
do? Ready to go to work this morning?"; how once at a rather 
gloomy eye camp he put on different colored shoes and called 
attention to them, "Look, I bought me a new pair of shoes!"; how 
over and over he would perform a joyful jig that made the patients 
laugh and forget their troubles. 

There was the Christmas service in 1967 in Christ Church, 
Ludhiana, that Dr. Mookerjee, one of the staff, would always 
remember. The congregation had assembled outside the church 
around a gaily decorated Christmas tree, the children bursting 
with excitement, when suddenly behind the bushes they heard a 
rousing song, "Happy birthday to You, Jesus, happy birthday to 
You!" And out of the bushes sprang Father Christmas in all his 
regalia, complete with tinkling bells. He assured the children as he 
handed out gifts that his reindeers were tied outside, because he 
was afraid they might chew up the lovely garden. He did a vigor¬ 
ous tap dance, and all agreed that never had there been a gayer or 
more vigorous Father Christmas. Who was it? While the children 
were busy with their presents, he tugged off his beard, and, of 
course, there was Dr. Rambo. 

There was no dearth of remembered incidents featuring his 
habits of continual and conspicuous prayer. There was the time on 
a camp at Manali when the camp peon Johnson, a chain smoker, 
fell ill. Victor was much worried, and he instructed Jagir Masih to 
take Mr. Johnson to the hospital early the next morning. That night 
when all the camp was asleep, Victor went to the peon's tent to 
check on his condition. He found it full of cigarette smoke. Embar¬ 
rassed, Johnson tried to hide the cigarette, for Victor had often 
berated him for his habit. Victor seemed to take no notice, but 
merely knelt down and started to pray with fervor, "O Lord, give 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


221 


Johnson enough strength so that he may overcome the temptation 
to smoke. Lord, this has been his long battle, and please help him 
win it." He went quietly back to his tent and to sleep. 

When he opened his eyes the next morning, he was surprised to 
see Johnson sitting near his feet, his face wet with tears. "Doctor- 
ji," he said, "the rest of the night after you left I couldn't sleep. I 
expected you to scold me for smoking against medical advice 
because of my lung condition. And all you did was pray for me. 
Never again shall I touch a cigarette, and thank you for your help." 

"Don't thank me," replied Victor. "Bolo Yisu Masih ki jai /" (Vic¬ 
tory to Jesus). 

Once he was called to go to a village where a man was bringing 
his mother, who was in urgent need of surgery. Hastily Victor got 
together some of his team and necessary equipment, and they 
started off in a pickup truck. It was the monsoon season, and the 
roads were very muddy. After some distance a tire went down. 
They pumped it up, for there was no spare. A couple of miles 
farther it went down again. More pumping. Again it happened, 
and again. Finally they were able to go only a quarter of a mile 
before the leaking tire once more collapsed, this time seemingly for 
good. They sat for a while, hoping some car would pass. None did. 

"Oh, my goodness," Victor suddenly exclaimed, "human be¬ 
ings are so foolish! Here we have help at our fingertips, and we are 
not using it." He knelt in the mud and started praying. "Lord, this 
woman is coming on the back of her son to have her eye operated 
on. And if we don't get there before dark, we will have no light to 
see by. Please get us there somehow." Getting up, he repeated, 
"Human beings are so stupid!" They waited a while longer. Still no 
help came. " Achchha!" said Victor at last. "Blow up the tire again, 
boys." 

They did so, and it took them all the way to the village, and, 
arriving there, immediately became flat again. 

"Prayer!" scoffed one of the team. "Where was that Lord of 
yours? He didn't bring us any help." 

"No?" Victor said with a chuckle. "I didn't ask Him to bring 
somebody. I just asked Him to get us here. He did." 

Victor was delighted when in 1968 his old friend and supporter of 
half a century, Wistar Wood, came to visit an eye camp with his 
wife, Evelyn, and two young granddaughters. On arriving in 
Delhi, they boarded a small, shaky plane and headed north toward 
the Himalayas. Putting down in the airstrip of the beautiful Kulu 
Valley just south of Kulutown, they were given a joyous welcome 
by Victor and Louise and driven in the camp van over rough roads 
to the eye camp. 



222 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


The Rambos were living in a small hut and had set up the 
operating room in a corrugated iron storehouse without electricity. 
Wistar and his family took turns holding flashlights on the eyes of 
the patients while Victor operated. It was a fitting climax, thought 
Wistar, to a relationship begun over fifty years before in that ship¬ 
yard on the Delaware when Victor had worked as a carpenter and 
he as a machinist's helper, when Victor had urged him to pray over 
some youthful problem, establishing a bond between them that 
had endured for a lifetime. 

"Greetings!" Victor began his letter to the Rambo Committee in 
September 1968. "Our work this past year has not only reached 
more blind and poor-visioned people than in any previous year, 
but also has involved as fine surgery as is done anywhere in the 
world. Three hundred cataract operations were done without a 
single iris prolapse or iris in the wound. For us who have seen 
through the years one to five of these complications in a hundred, 
the surgical record of our young Indian surgeons, led by Dr. Arin 
Chatterjee, our full-time surgeon, is unequaled. 

"One man," the letter continued, "was so thrilled to see after 
three years of blindness that he looked at me, threw his arms 
around me and gave me a hug that cracked a rib! Not serious, 
however. I will remember as long as I live his face full of unspeak¬ 
able joy, his heart full of appreciation. I pass this joy and apprecia¬ 
tion on to you, without breaking a rib, multipled by over ten 
thousand times, the number of people the five teams have served 
surgically this last year. And more than 50,000 patients were seen 
in the clinics!" 

That year, 1968, was also a red letter one for the Rambo family. 
Birch, Peggy, and their three children were flying back to Zaire that 
September. Tom had received his Ph.D. in biology from Ohio State 
and married Elinor Emery on Victor's seventy-fourth birthday, 
July 6. And Victor and Louise themselves were returning to India 
that fall via other developing countries, to study their village eye 
diseases and treatment facilities and start another winter of work. 

The unusual and noteworthy visitors to the eye camps during 
those later years of the sixties were by no means all Westerners. At 
least one was an Indian. 

Sobha Singh was one of India's best-known and best-loved 
artists, not only a painter and sculptor but also a philosopher 
deeply concerned for the welfare of his country's people. His home 
was in the village of Andretta in the beautiful Kangra Valley of the 
lower Himalayas. A peasant who lived a short distance from his 
house and from whom he had bought his land had become blind. 
He would come to visit Sobha Singh with a probing stick in one 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


223 


hand and a small girl leading him by the other. One day Sobha 
Singh was amazed to see him coming all by himself, holding a stick 
but with no one to guide him. Bubbling with pride and self- 
confidence, the peasant greeted his neighbor with a smile. 

"You can see!" exclaimed the artist. 

"Yes," the peasant said triumphantly, "by the grace of our Lord 
Rama and the kindness of Ram Sahib." 

Squatting on the verandah, he told his story. A neighbor who 
was blind had regained his sight after an eye operation at Palam- 
pur. Encouraged, the peasant also had gone there, hopeful but 
with terrible fears of the unknown. The Ram Sahib had taken his 
knife. He had taken away the blindness. "And now, blessed be 
Rama, I can see!" 

Sobha Singh listened with rapt interest. 1 must meet this angel of a 
man , he told himself. 

As usual, the team from Ludhiana went to Palampur the next 
year and set up the eye camp in the mission compound. With his 
daughter and son-in-law, Sobha Singh traveled the nine miles and 
stood at a respectful distance, watching. He saw that the poorest of 
the poor were there, the most wretched of the wretched, and he 
watched the tall, white-garbed Westerner go from one to the other, 
treating them all alike. Patients were waiting their turns for opera¬ 
tions on the verandah. Placing an affectionate hand on their shoul¬ 
ders, the "Ram Sahib" was instilling confidence in them. 

"He looked like a saint," Sobha Singh remembered afterward. 
"Busy with his work, he chanced to look at me as I stood there, a 
tall slender figure with my flowing white beard and my light, fawn 
colored shawl wrapped around my body. He came and offered me 
his hand. With a bow of courtesy I reverently clasped it in both of 
mine and shook it with fervor. The magic hand this was of the Ram 
Sahib who restored vision to the innumerable. 

"Most welcome, sir,' he said with smiling eyes. 'Why have you 
come?' 

" 'No eye trouble, sir,' I said. 'I have come to pay my regards to 
the great surgeon who is imbued with the mission of giving the gift 
of sight to the miserable blind.' 

"He put his delightful hand on my right shoulder. 'Ah, most 
welcome, most welcome. Come along.' He led us to his abode. His 
wife greeted us with unbounded affection and a homely smile. 
When I introduced my daughter Gurcharan, she embraced her 
with motherly love. We talked together over a cup of tea. He 
introduced us to the members of his team. 

"Religion is one of my major interests. Alas! Mechanization of 
the world has smothered and blurred its meanings. Still, the fact 



224 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


remains that I have no words to express what I experienced that 
day. I felt that in the big hall full of patients with bandages on their 
eyes the glory of the Lord himself was manifest there. To my mind, 
that of an artist, came the image of the Lord of the poorest of the 
poor, gliding gracefully through the diseased and destitute— 
blessing and curing them. On leaving the eye camp I remained 
absorbed in silent contemplation all the way back to my village/' 

The next year Victor went again with the team to Palampur, and 
Sobha Singh's daughter visited him. "My father requests you to 
come to his studio. Doctor Sahib. He wishes so much to paint your 
picture." 

Victor was astonished. But of course he could not disappoint this 
remarkable Indian who had become his friend. Transportation was 
a problem. There was the hospital van, but that was only for public 
use. "Could we go on the bus," he asked the girl, "stay overnight 
at your place, and return in the morning?" 

"Yes, of course. You will be most welcome." 

No, Victor decided, that would not do. It might put his friends to 
inconvenience. In the end he took the hospital van and appeased 
his conscience by waving and calling out to everybody he saw 
along the way, "Anybody to Andretta? Free lift. No charge." 

When his daughter told him about the trip, Sobha Singh was 
deeply moved. "You are most justified in coming by this van," he 
said, "because you and your team have rendered great service to 
the people of this area by curing the blind, and my portrait of you 
will be a humble present from the grateful public." 

"There and then," the artist wrote later, "the Doctor Sahib went 
down on his knees and implored, 'It is God who cures, not me. I 
am His humble servant. He is my shepherd. Gratitude is due to 
Him, not to me!' I perceived my studio pervaded by a celestial 
glow. I felt myself in a sort of trance. 

"My daughter served coffee. Meanwhile, in an abandonment of 
inner peace, my ecstatic brush gave a few intoxicated touches to 
the portrait I knew I must make. The Rambos left soon after. Their 
hearts were with their patients in the eye camp. This was my very 
strange spiritual experience. It enabled me to peep into the 
enchanting depths of a missionary. Dr. Rambo lived a life of renun¬ 
ciation. After Palampur he used to organize an eye camp a few 
kilometers away at Raison. Once I met him there. I found him in a 
servant quarter. He was sitting on the edge of a shabby, string- 
woven cot. One has to suffer to allay the sufferings of others. Such 
has been Dr. Rambo, over here, among us." 

The portrait that Sobha Singh painted of Victor, now hanging 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


225 


Sobha Singh , renowned 
Indian artist, at work on 
his portrait of Victor. 



in the eye department of the Pennsylvania Hospital, the oldest 
hospital in America, was the physical expression of this extrav¬ 
agant admiration and their long friendship, as well as the work of a 
great artist. But of even greater interest is a picture taken of the 
artist as he painted the portrait, sitting on a stool at his easel, white 
robed, with long white hair and a snowy beard, and a noble profile 
that could well have distinguished an Old Testament prophet; and 
in the background on the easel the neat, well-groomed figure of the 
American doctor, eyes keen and gleaming with some secret mirth, 
lips ready to break into a smile. The photograph shows a contrast 
between two cultures, two religions, and two ways of life, yet it 
expresses deep mutual ideals and aspirations, belying that old 
adage of Kipling, “East is east and west is west, but never, ..." for 
given a love of God and a concern for human need, always the 
twain shall meet. 




12 


I n 1969 Victor was seventy-five years old. Although he performed 
less surgery in the next five years, leaving much of the operat¬ 
ing to Arin Chatterjee and other doctors, his activity never les¬ 
sened. He continued to spend two or three months at Wyck each 
summer, returning to Ludhiana for the fall and winter rigorous 
schedule in the eye camps, with numerous side trips for confer¬ 
ences, seminars, and speaking engagements, not only in India and 
America but also in other parts of the world. 

The eye camps flourished. In the last three months of 1969, five 
thousand patients were examined, more than seven hundred op¬ 
erations performed. The Rambo Committee had been registered in 
India as "Sight For the Curable Blind" so that it might receive 
increased indigenous support and undergo greater expansion. 
Some patients brought special satisfaction. 

There was Mr. Jamde, a middle-aged Lahauli trader. Dr. Chatter¬ 
jee had seen him two years before in Kyelong and advised him to 
come for surgery when his cataracts were further advanced. This 
year he came, with several members of his family, had one eye 
operated on, and promised to return next year for the other. 

There was Veer Chand, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy, who had 
had one eye operated on for congenital cataract the year before. 
This year he returned for the other eye. He was doing well in 
school. 

There was Jofi, the wife of Mani Ram, a village carpenter, who 
came five days' journey over mountain trails, sometimes walking 
and sometimes being carried on her husband's back, to the Kulu 
clinic for treatment of corneal ulcers in both eyes, probably from 
tuberculosis. Her patience and courage during the month of treat¬ 
ment would always be remembered. 

Dr. Arin Chatterjee was studying in America that year at Univer¬ 
sity Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, but Victor was able to carry on 
the full program with the help of Dr. Kapalmit Singh, ophthal- 

226 






APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


227 


mologist, and Dr. S.C. Julius, his assistant. The numbers of Indian 
medical workers who had been assisted in training by the Rambo 
Committee had long since become impressive. Dr. Raj Sukhnan- 
dan, son of Dayal, and his wife were returning this year after seven 
years of study in Canada and the United States. Dr. Victor Choud- 
hrie and his wife, Bindu, daughter of Dayal and Lily Sukhnandan, 
were also returning after years of study in the United Kingdom. 
The Sukhnandans' daughter Pushpa, after graduating from 
Ludhiana Medical College, was working as a house surgeon in 
Padar Hospital. It was a rich harvest from the seeds Victor had 
planted long ago in sending those two boys to Miraj. The year was 
full of excitement and happiness for the Rambos and for Dayal, but 
also of sadness, for Lily Sukhnandan died suddenly of a heart 
attack in July. 

"I thank God for our life together/' wrote Dayal of the bride 
Victor had helped him find that day in Jabalpur. "She was a very 
active worker with church women not only in India but also 
abroad. She took active part in the church union negotiations." 

The year brought changes to the Rambo family also. Bill, who 
had stopped in Ludhiana the year before on his way home from 
two months medical service in South Vietnam, was now, with his 
wife, Sara, and their four children, William, Tim, Louise, and 
Frank, in Charleston, South Carolina, where he was associate 
professor of surgery in the Medical University of Charleston. Tom, 
who had received his Ph. D. from Ohio State, and his wife, Elinor, 
flew to Ethiopia in September for a two-year job at an agricultural 
college. On the last lap of their journey their plane containing 
seventy-one persons was hijacked to Aden by Eritrean com¬ 
mandos. After landing, an Ethiopian security guard among the 
passengers fired several shots at one of the three armed hijackers 
and wounded him. In Aden airport security guards seized the 
other two. After two anxious days, Tom and Elinor were returned 
to Ethiopia and the college, where Tom was to teach zoology and be 
in charge of a zoo. 

"The year 1969 has been thrilling," wrote Victor to his commit¬ 
tee, "our 45th year of sight restoration, building the name of Jesus 
into vocabularies of thousands of those who had not know Him 
and into very many hearts for life and light." 

The teams at Vellore, Sompeta, Mungeli, and Ludhiana had 
done close to fourteen thousand eye operations, with as many 
refractions and glasses given. Sompeta had led the way with ten 
thousand operations. 

Even though Victor was nominally retired, he was still a member 
of the Ludhiana Christian Medical College staff as professor 



228 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


emeritus and remained in charge of the village teams. Salaries, 
personnel, equipment, and all other expenses for the mobile hospi¬ 
tals were paid, as always, by the Rambo Committee. The house in 
Model Town, purchased by the committee, continued to be home 
in India for Victor and Louise, with Arin having a room on the 
upper floor and being virtually one of the family. 

The year 1970 showed more significant gains. The fifteen- 
member team worked in twelve places in the Punjab and ten in the 
state of Himachal. A total of 15,214 patients were examined. Nearly 
2,000 eye operations were performed. Eye glasses were distributed 
to 1,638. Refractions were done for 3,645. A new "disaster ambu¬ 
lance" unit was provided for the eye department at Vellore and a 
new carryall for Ludhiana to replace a unit over twelve years old 
that was constantly breaking down. But still the needs were tre¬ 
mendous: four slit-lamp microscopes, four more carryalls, a disas¬ 
ter ambulance unit for Mungeli. And these were only the barest 
minium of Victor's estimated needs. 

"What do you want?" he was asked in an interview with John 
Frazer, a journalist long associated with India. 

"I want," he replied, "to have our science of sight restoration 
reach every single person with curable blindness in every needy 
nation. Why not? Every needy nation is within twenty-four hours 
of flying time." 

"And what would you do if you had a hundred thousand dol¬ 
lars?" 

"I would set machinery going to find out the ophthalmologic 
situation in every needy nation. I would have a Rambo Committee 
member go to each of the nations for a short visit. This would take 
some three months. Then I would connect up a medical school eye 
department in the U.S.A. with a nation that the department might 
serve, fifty of them. Then I would pray for $2,500,000 to cover the 
expense of equipping, travel, cost of about a hundred teams— 
about 100,000 cataract operations. And how the name of God and 
that of the U.S.A. would soar in the capitals of the needy nations!" 

The Rambo Committee's annual budget, aiming at fifty thou¬ 
sand dollars, was boldly ambitious, but in Victor's mind it was a 
mere drop in the bucket. His theme song in these years of the 
seventies and a favorite from the moment it appeared was "The 
Impossible Dream." 

On their journeys to and from America in 1970, Victor and Louise 
visited Tom and Elinor in Alemaya, Ethiopia, making the acquain¬ 
tance of Thomas Birch Rambo, their sixteenth grandchild. He 
had been born in Addis Ababa on May 10 and was sometimes called, 
as an Ethiopian compliment, "Ambasa," lion. They spent three 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


229 


weeks there in June and July and nine days in October on the way 
back to India. They saw the impressive graduation ceremony of the 
agricultural college at which Emperor Haile Selassie presided. Two 
former students of Victor's at Vellore, Dr. and Mrs. Irwin Samuel, 
were in Addis Ababa. Dr. Irwin was a professor of pathology in the 
medical college, and his wife was on the staff of the big Leprosy 
Research Institute, where Dr. Paul Brand made periodic visits to 
train workers in surgery and rehabilitation. 

November 2, when they flew to Delhi, was an Ethiopian national 
holiday, the fortieth anniversary of the emperor's coronation, with 
parades and colorful ceremonies. The imperial bodyguard, in its 
bright red and green uniforms, mounted on beautiful white 
horses, was a gorgeous spectacle. Not only was the Rambo Com¬ 
mittee now aiding Birch's work in Zaire with glasses and artificial 
eyes, but it was also sending hundreds of cataract glasses to the 
Haile Selassie Hospital in Addis Ababa. It was impossible to realize 
then that within a few years all such royal trappings, including the 
emperor himself, would be banished from this ancient monarchy, 
priding itself on existing continuously from the time of King 
Solomon. 

Another return was made to America and Wyck in 1971, this time 
a little earlier than usual for Victor to attend the fiftieth reunion of 
his University of Pennsylvania Medical School class. At the end of 
August, after two trips to the western United States, he was 
invited to go to Jerusalem for a conference on geographical oph¬ 
thalmology and a seminar on the prevention of blindness. Arin 
Chatterjee also was there, and the two had a happy meeting. For 
Victor it was a moving experience to be in the holy city where the 
Master Healer had once walked and where the prophet Isaiah had 
prophesied, "The eyes of the blind shall be opened." 

And of his journeys out into the hills and villages he wrote: "I 
have often thought with happiness of the tremendously glorious 
companionship of the disciples as they bivouacked with their Lord 
up and down those Palestinian hills under improvised shelter or 
none. Just like our mobile eye hospital arrangements out there in 
the lonesome, today!" 

It was one of his first opportunities to bring his work in India to 
international attention, cataract never before having been seri¬ 
ously studied as an important cause of curable blindness, and he 
was asked to open a session on eye camps. 

But they were not "eye camps," he was now insisting: "The term 
has now come into disrepute. There are, sadly, many inadequately 
trained, self-styled 'eye specialists' carrying on eye camps in which 
the patient is not seen by the 'doctor' after operation and where 



230 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


there is no trained nurse or other proper care. It is therefore of great 
importance that the modern mobile unit, with trained ophthal¬ 
mologist and nurses, assistants and all modern facilities, be dif¬ 
ferentiated from the fly-by-night camps of the quacks. We have in 
India adopted the term 'Mobile Eye Hospital' to designate these 
modern units. . . . Our treatment of eye conditions must be of the 
quality that we ourselves would like to have for our eyes, not 
inferior in any way. The rule: the Golden Rule. Care for the pa¬ 
tient's eyes as you would like to have your eyes cared for. Give him 
the best." 

In September the Rambo Committee in America was incorpo¬ 
rated for charitable, scientific, educational, and religious purposes, 
with J. Barton Harrison, Herman P. Eberharter, Victor C. Rambo, 
Phelps Todd, and Walter D. Voelker its incorporation. Harry 
Tiedeck was still president of the committee. Now there were two 
registered organizations, one in America and one in India. 

Harry Tiedeck's service to the committee through the years had 
been invaluable. Another indispensable member had been Phelps 
Todd, a businessman with the concept of service central to his life. 
After retiring from business at age sixty-five, he had become trea¬ 
surer of the Christian Association of the University of Pennsyl¬ 
vania, whose lively fellowship had furnished a nucleus for the 
Rambo Committee. Earl Harrison, Tom Ringe, and George Parlin, 
all lawyers who had acted as counsellors under Dana How, had 
served as active members of the Rambo Committee until their 
deaths. When the committee would be reorganized later in 1974, 
Raleigh Birch would become president and Charles Schisler trea¬ 
surer, to be succeeded by Wilbur Jurist. Raleigh and Joanne Birch, 
who had been members of the earlier committee, would continue 
as leaders in the reorganized setup. 

The Rambos came back in the fall of 1969 to an India on the brink 
of war, Bangladesh suffering birth throes of independence, her 
beleaguered refugees pouring into West Bengal. In December 
Pakistan in the west began fighting with India. Cities and airfields 
in the northwest were attacked. Ludhiana was but sixty miles from 
the Pakistani border. In Model Town there was a nightly blackout. 
Often the screaming of the air raid sirens could be heard. One of 
the teams, working near the border, experienced daily visits by the 
planes, and the sound of guns could be heard day and night. Once 
the planes dropped six bombs, damaging the local railway station 
only half a mile from the site of the mobile hospital work. Numbers 
of patients dropped to an all-time low, but the teams did not leave 
their stations, although at least seven of the members had homes 
very near the border. Their parents, brothers, sisters, and children 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


231 


were in danger every moment, but none of the members left to look 
after their families. 

In spite of all the difficulties that year, the Ludhiana teams 
examined and treated 11,855 patients, with 1,823 operations, 1,175 
of them for cataract. 

"Can you count my fingers?" would come the question over and 
over again, followed by the joyful answer. 

"Yes, I can count them! Yes, I can count them!" 

To Victor's satisfaction, more and more local Indians were be¬ 
coming involved in his projects. In the cotton-market town of 
Muktsar, a center for 150,000 people, a prosperous landlord, hav¬ 
ing seen the work of the mobile hospitals, decided to build an eye 
hospital for his town. He asked that the Ludhiana team staff and 
run it. They agreed to do so for one year, hoping that after that it 
would continue with local support. The Christoffel Blindenmis- 
sion underwrote the expense for the year. 

Another of Victor's dreams was also being realized, the training 
of Indian nurses. Ruth Julius, daughter of Khushman, having 
earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Vellore and a Master of 
Science degree in nursing from Indiana University, went on the 
teaching staff of the College of Nursing in Chandigarh. Also 
Banarsi Dass, a male nurse with training in ophthalmologic nurs¬ 
ing at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital, was taking a further 
course in Washington. Others of Victor's trainees were taking 
positions of increased responsibility: Dr. Anna Thomas heading 
the eye department at Vellore when Roy Ebenezer left for work in 
Arabia; Arin Chatterjee becoming head of the department of 
ophthalmology at Ludhiana. Ruth's husband. Dr. Satish Julius, 
passed his final examination for the diploma in ophthalmologic 
medicine and surgery at Punjab University. Dr. Vijai Ali, trained 
under Dr. Christopher Deen and Victor, was being sent by the 
committee for a refresher course at Columbus, Ohio. John Coapul- 
lai in Sompeta and his wife, who had gone to Vellore to train in 
ophthalmology, were serving tens of thousands of eye sufferers 
each year, doing about twelve thousand operations annually. Their 
work was promoted by the Canadian Baptists, but the Rambo 
Committee was one of their supporters. 

"The past year and a half," wrote Victor in August 1972, "Have 
been the most encouraging and fruitful of the 48V2 years of my 
medical career." 

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi recognized the work with gov¬ 
ernment approval. The Swiss Cantons, through Government In¬ 
ternational Aid, gave equipment and instruments worth over ten 
thousand dollars. Christoffel Blindenmission in the Orient gave an 



232 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


ambulance to the second eye hospital in Muktsar. Oxfam in 
England was a generous supporter. The Canadian Operation 
Eyesight Universal was giving major support to Dr. Coapullai's 
hospital in Sompeta. A building program was in prospect for the 
Kulu Valley clinic—wards with toilets, running water, and small 
cooking cubicles in which families could cook their own meals in 
the center of the mobile hospitals; staff quarters that doctors and 
nurses could live in in reasonable comfort. The teams were regu¬ 
larly visiting twelve outreach stations. 

And in the Ludhiana hospital itself, the eye department had 
grown tremendously under the leadership of Dr. Simon Franken 
from the Netherlands in its teaching program and graduate re¬ 
search. Most modern appliances had been introduced, such as the 
laser photocoagulator, the only one of its kind in the area, a gift of 
SIMAVI of Holland. A contact lens and artificial eye section had 
also been introduced. Before this patients had had to go all the way 
to Delhi or Aligarh to get contact lens fittings and supplies. Miss 
Van der Ham of Holland had devoted some years to the artificial 
eye section and to training opticians. 

Some clinics held by the teams were outstanding. One in Gur- 
daspur, north of Amritsar, through the efforts of the local Rotary 
Club, had secured excellent quarters in the clean, modern build¬ 
ings of the Industrial Training Institute. Large tents were set up on 
the campus to provide wards. College students volunteered for 
service. Another team worked in small buildings connected with a 
gurdwara (Sikh temple) in the small town of Sultanpur Lodhi, 
considered sacred by the Sikhs because 500 years before Guru 
Nanak had lived there. Visiting the clinic, Victor watched hordes of 
pilgrims come to pray, some eating lunch and some resting under a 
huge old banyan tree. He saw the crowd as a wonderful opportu¬ 
nity for eye examinations, of course. 

"Can you see my hand?" 

"Yes, I can see your hand and your face and everything!" 

That year Victor received the Ehrenzeller Award which was 
given by the ex-Residents Association of the Pennsylvania Hospi¬ 
tal. He was honored with a certificate for his forty-eight years of 
distinguished service. On it were inscribed the familiar words of 
the good Samaritan: "Take care of him, and when I come again I 
will repay you." 

"Actually it is you and other supporters who deserve the 
award," wrote Victor to the committee. "Although I have given my 
whole life to curing blindness I have been repaid daily. 

"For many, many times / have held the trembling hands of the 
blind as they groped their way to our Mobile Hospitals. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


233 


“l have looked into the desperate pleading eyes of a mother or 
father as they brought us their beloved blind child. 

"And 1 have seen the unspeakable joy in the faces of those who 
after their operation can see again. 

"Many times I have tried to stop them as they stooped to touch 
my feet." 

His work had indeed been satisfying, but still a mere drop in the 
ocean of need. Only some twenty thousand blind were being made 
to see each year when there were a million who were groping and 
sightless; and 70 percent of them could have their sight restored. 
And there was also desperate need of research on the incidence of 
cataract in India, the most common cause of blindness. For in¬ 
stance, why did the southeast Asian people, who protected their 
eyes with a straw hat from childhood to death, have fewer cataracts 
than the Indian peasant, exposing his eyes, unprotected, to the 
glaring rays of the tropical sun? An answer would benefit the entire 
world. 

The "Rambling Rambos," someone called them, and the name 
applied not only to Victor and Louise but also to the whole family. 
Bill and Sara with their four children were in Kampala, Uganda, for 
a year, where Bill was an exchange professor in surgery and cancer 
research. Meanwhile Birch and Peggy, on furlough from Zaire, 
were occupying Bill's house in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The 
Hoshikos with their three moved back to Cleveland after Tom's 
sabbatical year of research in Chicago. Elinor and Tom, with two- 
year-old Birch, moved to Kentucky, where Tom was teaching zool¬ 
ogy in the state College; they were soon to welcome Elizabeth 
Ruth, the seventeenth grandchild. Only Helen and Wesley Walters 
were not moving, ministering to the same church in Marissa, 
Illinois. 

The year 1973 was a landmark. "Dear friends of Victor and 
Louise Rambo," wrote Harry Tiedeck, still the faithful president of 
the Rambo Committee, Inc., in a letter to its hundreds of members, 
"Victor and Louise return this summer from their 50th year of 
service to the people of India. This is also the year that they will 
celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary. We must celebrate 
together, family and friends and colleagues." 

And celebrate they did. Raleigh and Joanne Birch were the 
impresarios of the main event. After spending years hunting parts 
for the perennially ailing vans of the mobile dispensaries, Raleigh 
was exercising his engineering talents in even more vital areas. As 
older members of the Rambo Committee were passing on or be¬ 
coming incapacitated, he and Joanne were moving naturally 




234 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


into positions of leadership. Now they planned a reception for 
Victor and Louise at their Marple Christian Church in Broomall, 
with many social features at their country home in Media. Plans 
began months in advance. Sunday, August 19, was chosen because 
it was a date when all the children could be present. 

Entertaining the family, five sons and daughters with spouses 
and eighteen grandchildren, was no small undertaking. They 
made reservations for Victor and Louise at the Lima Holiday Inn 
Motel so that they would not need to travel back and forth from 
Germantown. Joanne's friend Kay Rood took part of the family in 
her home. Dr. Bill and his beautiful blond children were housed in 
a room next door where he could rest more easily, for he had been 
busy with surgery and was very tired. Bill's wife, Sara, was ill with 
malaria and could not come. The Hoshikos were in the Birch 
library, sleeping on what must have been the most uncomfortable 
sofa bed in the world; yet they and their children were as gracious 
as if it were a royal suite. Other friends, Marty and Joe Hughes, had 
brought their camper to the Birches' big yard and placed it under a 
big apple tree for Tom and Elinor and their two children. 

How were they to feed the big crowd on that Saturday night? 
Joanne bought a huge turkey, an enormous ham, and the biggest 
roast of beef she had ever cooked. Still she felt overwhelmed, but it 
seemed the whole world came to help without being asked. 
Neighbors brought dishes, silver, and Indian tablecloths and made 
cakes and pies. Marty Hughes sent an enormous crystal punch 
bowl filled with fruited Jell-o. "In India they never get Jell-o. I 
know they'll love it!" She also sent two bakery sheets with straw¬ 
berry shortcake looking as if it had come from the finest patisserie, 
each square topped with a strawberry seemingly as big as one's 
fist. Jeannette Fromtling sent a huge bowl of her special pepper 
hash. 

Saturday came, cloudy and threatening rain. Joanne tried to act 
calm, intrepid. If it rained, they could never feed fifty-four people 
in their small house. All day it spittered and spattered, typical 
humid August weather. The family and friends assembled, all 
delighted at being together. Every so often a hymn would break out 
spontaneously. Everything was perfect, except the gray sky. 
Raleigh put the truck on the tractor, loaded on the picnic tables, 
and set them up on the grass by the duck pond. Many hands took 
down the cloths, dishes, and pottery in brown and blue and white. 
No paper plates, Joanne had insisted. The food was all in readiness 
on the porch. 

Dinner would be at five, Joanne had announced firmly. Five 
came. Bill could not be found. Someone went to find him. He was 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


235 


in his room, sound asleep. Victor also was missing, but that 
was to be expected. He was rarely punctual. But by twenty-five 
past five all were present, and down there by the pond with the 
ducks looking on they made the largest friendship circle Joanne 
had ever seen. To add to the glory of the experience, the sun came 
out. 

Joanne had set her heart on securing a complimentary letter from 
the president for the Rambos. She was told to write to his adviser. 
General Haig. He had acknowledged her letter, and she started 
waiting. Friday and Saturday brought nothing. Came Sunday 
morning. "Mother," called her young son, "there's something 
funny coming up the drive." She ran out. There was a curious 
conveyance with three wheels. A mailman in mufti got out. "I have 
something here for you, Mrs. Birch." Joanne gasped. She looked at 
the very stiff and heavy envelope in her hands. "To Mr. and Mrs. 
Raleigh Birch, for the Rambos," she read. Opening it, she received 
one of the thrills of her life. It was a beautiful tribute. She sat down 
and wept, then went to the telephone and called Marty. They 
almost had a quarrel, for her friend was no admirer of Mr. Nixon. 
But, after all, who wouldn't like to get a letter from the president of 
the United States, protested Joanne, whoever he was? The congre¬ 
gation thought so when it was presented and read that afternoon, 
and they gave a standing ovation, their own tribute and agreement 
with the sentiments expressed: 

"The fiftieth anniversary of your medical work in India and half a 
century of married life make this a special occasion for your admir¬ 
ers, beneficiaries, and friends. There is no measure for the good 
that you have done in alleviating human suffering and fostering 
goodwill for your church and for our country through your brilliant 
career. Nor is there a fitting reward for the love and selfless dedica¬ 
tion you have poured into each day's work." 

The service and reception were perfect. The church was a "sea" 
of gold. The walls were festooned with ribbons of gold gift¬ 
wrapping paper, "forty miles of it," Joanne insisted. Victor and 
Louise sat on the elders' bench facing the congregation, he wearing 
a gold tie, she a gold stole and beautiful gold corsage. All the family 
were given gold rosettes. There were banners; one represented the 
tree of life, and each branch one of the Rambo children. There were 
blown-up pictures of the Rambos at different stages of their lives. 
Posters urged in giant letters: "Make a Joyful Noise," "You Gotta 
Have Heart," "Serve the Lord with Gladness," "Be Ye Doers of the 
Word," and so on. 

The minister, Pastor Ralph Price, gave the welcome to the start 
the program. There were talks on "Something Old" and "Some- 




236 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 



Victor and Louise at the church reception given them in honor of their 
fiftieth zvedding anniversary. 

thing New," a presentation, hymns, and prayers. Birch spoke, 
representing the children, giving their tribute to both parents. 
"Mother," he said, "knew every word in the dictionary." At Bar¬ 
bara's suggestion Raleigh sang "The Impossible Dream," a fitting 
tribute to one who had always been an "impossible dreamer." 
Harry Tiedeck, who through the years had helped make some of 
those dreams come true, gave the benediction. At the reception 
following, the church women served a huge cake, gold with 
orange highlights, decorated with two birds with little glass 
prisms, made in India. 

How could one describe in words the beauty, the emotion, and 
the joyfulness of the whole experience? Spectacle? Celebration? 
Festivity? Jubilee? English was inadequate. India could have 
provided a better word. It was a real tamasha. 

Victor, of course, used the occasion to educate all captive listen¬ 
ers in the needs of India's blind. Gathering some of the children 
around him, he told them about his eye camps, mentioning the 
waste he saw in all the implements of destruction in Vietnam. How 
one of those helicopters, he exclaimed, would make movement for 
him and his teams so much faster! His audience was intrigued. A 
helicopter? Why not? Marty's and Joe's children went back to their 






APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


237 


Catholic church and begged their priest to help them raise money 
so Dr. Rambo could have his helicopter. 

“For dear Lord's sake," was Louise's reaction, “don't get him a 
helicopter!" 

A book—a tome—was presented to Victor and Louise contain¬ 
ing hundreds of letters of tribute from their friends, children and 
grandchildren. Many, like these, recalled incidents of the past: 

William McElwee Miller (Bill): “Have no ram's horn. Would love 
to sound two long blasts for double jubilee. What a joy it was to 
welcome Vic to Teheran some years ago and to stand with him on 
the sidewalk as he prayed for the driver of the taxi out of which he 
had stepped! How we sympathized with him when he opened his 
bag and found that a medicine bottle had burst open when the 
plane reached high altitude and all in the bag had been baptized 
with iodine!" 

Elizabeth Martin: “Do you remember, Weezle, when we slept on 
wedding cake and put in seven names, drawing one out each day 
and you put Vic's name in the farthest corner of the envelope so 
you'd be sure to draw him last and so he'd be the one? . . . You, 
propped on your bed studying Spanish, falling asleep, then taking 
a test and getting A. (Westy and I always slaved and came out with 
a B.) They say we tried to teach you not to walk pigeon-toed so 
you'd make the ideal May Queen. All this effort went to nought 
when you went to India!" 

James S. Gupton, minister in Georgia: “I remember an occasion 
in Cincinnati at one of our international conventions. I was sitting 
over on the right side of the auditorium and noticed somone 
motioning to me from the hallway. I went out, and it was a person I 
had never seen before. You. You asked me if I would go on the stage 
with you and tie your hands while you made an appeal. I shall 
never forget your asking people to untie your hands so you might 
accomplish greater things for Christ." 

Jenny and Otto, Wichita: “Our neighbors still laugh with me 
about their curiosity as to who was the tall lean man practising 
calisthenics in our back yard at 5:30 in the morning. I doubt if you 
have any converts in that area!" 

Carol Terry Talbot, Ramabai Mukti Mission: “Remember the day 
at Kodai when a little boy sat in the big chair before you to have his 
eyes examined, scared stiff? Suddenly you stopped your examina¬ 
tion and said, 'Be very quiet and listen.' We all listened as a bird 
perched near the window sang a solo and you said, 'Wasn't that 
nice of God to send you a bird to sing just now?' The boy nodded 
and was no longer afraid. . . . Then when a visiting Indian Church 




238 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


of England padre felt he couldn't minister to the local Christians 
without a robe, you put an operating robe on him and fed a crying 
baby candy while he dedicated it. When there were no cups for the 
communion service, you had us use the palms of our hands, and it 
was the most blessed communion service of my life. . . . Then 
there was that transforming experience on the hot plains as we 
went miles out of our way to Vellore Hospital to examine the blind 
eyes of two little sons of an Indian pastor. Heat was almost unbear¬ 
able, dust all over us, perspiration making rivulets down our 
faces, arms, legs. We were thirsty and miserable. You were driving 
with a towel over your hands, and suddenly you burst into song. 
Til go where You want me to go, dear Lord. . . .!' The atmosphere 
in the car changed. We were going over the hot plains for Him." 

There were memories, too, in some of the family letters. 

Bill: "I have so many vivid, pleasant memories of our family life 
growing up in India—trips, expeditions, everyday living, working 
around the hospitals, especially Mungeli, sound advice and in¬ 
struction in the faith." 

Tom: "From the very beginning I remember how close you made 
us feel—close to you and close to each other. First of all you treated 
us as individuals and respected us. I cannot remember being 
compared with the older kids. Some of my fondest memories are of 
riding out with Dad to go hunting and of listening to Mother read 
to me. Even in boarding school I never felt pushed aside. Another 
thing which has greatly enriched our lives has been the concern 
that we come in contact with greatness as much as possible. I can 
remember resisting this violently, but now I am glad to be able to 
say that I saw Althea Gibson play or that I heard Dwight Eisen¬ 
hower speak. And finally, thanks for your Christian faith, which 
you did not force on us but which you lived. Your quiet examples 
were supporting and strengthening but not pressuring. My trust in 
God, as it has developed, has been my own." 

Even the grandchildren had their memories. 

"Dear Grandfather and Grandmother, I am happy that you met 
each other and that you are my grandparents. One of the things 
that I remember about you is your jokes. I am happy to tell all my 
friends that you are missionaries in India and that grandfather is an 
eye doctor. But most of all I am happy to know you. Love, 
Katherine." 

Stephen Walters: "I am fine. I remembered that you do exercises, 
so Mom and I do some also." 

Victor also during this year of looking backward expressed in a 
letter to all these friends some of his own memories. 

"Strangely perhaps there stands out bright and sharply outlined 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


239 


a host of 'little moments'—a boyhood adventure, my first seeing 
the young lady who was to become my partner on this journey, our 
babies as each entered the world, sicknesses, struggles, gradua¬ 
tions, marriages, and the whole web of little experiences that I now 
see woven together as the fabric, the tapestry, of my life on earth. 

"There have been in unspeakably glorious ways many flashes of 
joy, of spiritual rapture, when unexpectedly I suddenly came close 
in a 'soul-to-soul' oneness with a fellow pilgrim and in a flash we 
saw each other as each a child of the same Father, we both belonged 
to the same family that He created, our differences vanished and 
our 'togetherness' scintillated for both of us in a holy experience of 
intense, though unspoken love." 




13 


W hen Victor and Louise returned to India in October, they 
knew that it must be their last year as missionaries on the 
field. Victor was seventy-nine. Time was running out. Even a 
human dynamo was considered old at eighty. 

It was a year less of advancement than of careful and ordered 
consolidation, even of retrenchment. The economic unrest sweep¬ 
ing the world had reached India. It affected the mobile teams as 
well as other hospital employees. There was an increasing de¬ 
ficiency in devotion. Prayer sessions with the patients became less 
earnest. The attainment of longer leaves seemed more important 
than the accomplishment of duty. Still, there was progress. The 
new Muktsar Eye Hospital thrived. Mr. Sohan Singh with pride 
and enjoyment saw the results of his dream. Toward the end of the 
year an applanation tonometer was added to its equipment. Other 
instruments were sharpened in Switzerland, and new needles 
were found for the corneal work. 

More extended stations were functioning in Palampur and 
Raison in the Kulu Valley, with new buildings planned. A large 
staff went to Lahaul and Spiti, and many persons came out of the 
high Himalayas for operations and glasses to be made in Raison. 
Four new 900 Haag-Streit slit-lamp microscopes were obtained 
and distributed to the most needy of the developing eye hospital 
and stationary eye departments. 

Victor exerted much of his energy that year in creating standards 
for mobile eye hospitals, not only in India but throughout the 
world. He did much writing. 

"Do not be satisfied with cheap, unqualified surgeons or assis¬ 
tants, casual, high morbidity, unfollowed-up ophthalmology for 
the villages, called in the past and even now, 'Camps.' The villager, 
be he man or woman or child or baby, has an eye as precious as 
your own. 

"Let us hope to abandon the concept and even the name of 

240 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


241 


'camp/ From the coucher to the Smith operator and the one stitch 
cataract operation, unequipped, hasty diagnosis, hurried opera¬ 
tion, inadequate post-operative care, no follow-up days—let them 

g°- 

"Adopt the concept Mobile Eye Hospital. With a slit-lamp mi¬ 
croscope, finest instruments, needles and suture material, finest 
surgery with staff consisting of a well trained regular team of 
nurses, technicians, optometrists, opticians and other supporting 
staff. This is what you want and need. 

"We of the society SIGHT FOR THE CURABLE BLIND have 
proven that finest ophthalmology, modern and safe, can be taken 
to the villages. The Mobile Eye Hospital is adequate to meet the 
need of the eye problems of villagers anywhere in the world." 

That year Arin Chatterjee and Victor produced a book. The 
Curable Blind: A Guide for Establishing and Maintaining Mobile Eye 
Hospitals, that was an exhaustive study of history, techniques, 
personnel, equipment, surgical procedures, medicines, and health 
care of patients. It was also profusely illustrated with pictures; in 
short, it was a compendium of fifty years of experimentation, 
practical experience, and untiring pursuit of a single goal. Dr. 
Harlan Hungerford and his wife, Irene, had visited the Rambos in 
Ludhiana in the spring of 1973, and Harlan, a retired professor 
from the English department of Kent University, had done the 
difficult work of putting together the preliminary draft of the book. 
Later it was put into final form by a young journalist. Jack Shandle, 
in Philadelphia. 

The year—more than fifty years — came to an end. Victor and 
Louise returned to America in the spring of 1974, and with the help 
of the committee and other church friends they settled into a senior 
citizens' housing development in Germantown, Four Freedoms 
House. The effects sent from Mungeli and stored in the mission 
headquarters included no furniture. "Everything they had," com¬ 
mented Joanne Birch, "would have fitted into a two by four box!" 

One day she made a frantic telephone call to Raleigh from Van 
Sciver's on the City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, where she had 
gone to help Victor and Louise pick out furniture. "Come, please 
come! Help me! I'm getting a pounding headache. I don't know 
what to do." 

Arriving at the store, Raleigh found Joanne and Louise apprais¬ 
ing beds, but not Victor. After taking one look and hearing the 
price, he would sit down in a convenient chair and moan, "But, 
Louise, think of the eye surgery that could be done in India with all 
that money!" 

For perhaps the twelfth time Joanne would say patiently, "The 




242 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Indians will take care of themselves, but, Victor, you need a place to 
lay your head." 

Finally Victor relented sufficiently to try out one bed after an¬ 
other. Whether from discomfort of price or of bed, none seemed to 
suit. Remembering the story of the princess, Joanne thought, He 
could feel a pea under those twenty mattresses! His bed must be long, 
Victor maintained, and hard, very hard like a board. I believe he 
wants to suffer, thought Joanne. 

The clerk, to whom a little of the Rambos' story had been told, 
was patient and helpful. "I can give you a firm and a soft," he said. 

Louise sat down, reached into her purse, and took out a check¬ 
book. "We can afford something good, Victor," she said with 
mildness but determination. 

While she wrote out the check for living room, dining room, and 
bedroom furniture costing a couple of thousand dollars, Victor sat 
in the display chair, head in his hands, repeating, "Oh, but Louise, 
we can't do this. It isn't right. All this money. You know it isn't 
right. Think what it could do!" His voice, as usual, carried, and 
people all around were observing the scene. He was genuinely 
concerned. Joanne was almost in tears. Louise calmly finished 
writing the check and gave it to the clerk. 

"Please," Joanne said to the clerk, "get it delivered as fast as you 
can because these people have been fifty years giving; now it's time 
they were receiving." 

It was over finally. They got Victor, still in shock, and Louise 
outside and into their little Corvair. The roads were choked with 
traffic, roaring and grinding in rhythm with the pounding in Jo¬ 
anne's head. As they drove up the driveway of the house in Rose 
Tree Road where the Rambos were staying, a smiling woman came 
out to meet them. "You probably want a cup of tea," she said. 
"Come on in. And you, Victor, go lie down. You look worn out." 
After tea, she put into Joanne's hands a big pan of fried chicken. 
"Here, I know you haven't time to make dinner tonight, dear," she 
said. There was understanding in her eyes. 

The furniture was delivered in due time, and the Rambos moved 
into their small but comfortable apartment. "To this day," Joanne 
observed with amusement much later, "I doubt if Victor knows 
whether he's sleeping on the hard bed or the soft!" 

Retirement? For Victor? In his vocabulary the word was as am¬ 
biguous as "furlough." "Removal or withdrawal from service," the 
dictionary defines it. The next four years were to be fully as vigor¬ 
ous as the last four. 

The Rambo Committee was at a standstill, virtually disbanded. It 
had completed its work of keeping Victor and Louise in India, and 




APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


243 


now its members considered their responsibilities at an end. Victor 
did not see things that way. In his view they were just beginning. 
Opportunities were multiplying, not just in India but all over the 
world. Never had there been so much need for recruiting doctors 
and nurses, for training national workers, for raising money— 
millions instead of mere thousands — to relieve the desperate 
plight of the curable blind. Raleigh Birch, who was the mainstay of 
what was left of the committee, found himself overwhelmed with 
Victor's urgent appeals. He was getting calls at all hours, even 
in the middle of the night. What was needed was an executive sec¬ 
retary. 

At the suggestion of Pastor Dwight French, regional minister of 
the Christian church in Pennsylvania, in October 1974 the Rambos 
and Birches met with Dr. Arthur E. K. Brenner, who seemed an 
ideal possibility. Dr. Brenner had been a chaplain as well as a 
minister, had superintended an orphanage in Korea, conducted 
foreign tours, and acted in many differing capacities. At present he 
was partially retired. Here, certainly, was an answer to the commit¬ 
tee's need. 

Would Dr. Brenner be interested? He might, yes, but he deferred 
making a commitment until he had given the matter much thought 
and prayer. In February 1975 he made his decision. He would come 
with the Rambo Committee part-time for a few months while he 
completed his obligations to his pastorate. At this point most of the 
previous board of directors, many of whom had worked with 
Victor for fifty years, resigned, saying that responsibility should 
now fall on the shoulders of younger people under the leadership 
of this new and active director. In July 1975 Dr. Brenner became the 
full-time executive secretary of a rejuvenated Rambo Committee. 

The emphasis that year was on the work in India and Zaire, but 
horizons of opportunity were widening toward other countries. 
The needs were limitless. Dr. Brenner was instrumental in devising 
new educational media. In 1976 he persuaded a charitable trust to 
contribute ten thousand dollars toward the production of a color 
motion picture depicting the work in India. Using many sequences 
of eye camps filmed by the photographers of M. D. International it 
pictured dramatically all the phases of a mobile eye hospital from 
the work of the "teller of good news" to the joyful giving of sight 
with glasses. It showed Victor in action through the whole surgical 
process, Birch telling of his work in Zaire, and Arin Chatterjee, 
John Coapullai, and others of the fifty and more doctors, nurses, 
and technicians whom Victor through the committee had helped to 
train through the years. It presented the fact and challenge that a 
blind person could be made to see for a cost of only twenty-five 



244 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


dollars, the price of a single visit to an eye specialist in America. 

"They come as helpless objects of pity," appealed Victor. "They 
go as self-sufficient individuals, thankful that there are people 
somewhere who care about them As they thank us some call us 
'Marahaj!' 'Maharaj!' as if greeting a king. Yet we come not as 
kings, but as servants of the King." 

This film, titled To See Again, became the Rambo Committee's 
finest medium of dramatic challenge. Twelve copies were soon in 
circulation. Area representatives were recruited to spearhead the 
work of the committee in various sections of the country and to 
show the film. 

If Dr. Brenner, Raleigh Birch, and others were the engineers 
keeping the machinery well oiled and running smoothly—in fact 
its designers and operators—Victor, although now well into his 
eighties, was still a human dynamo, constantly attempting to 
infuse it with igniting sparks. Yet in all human relationships his 
utter commitment could be both stimulating and unsettling, and 
occasionally a source of friction. 

"His commitment is so intense, so absolute," observed one of his 
devoted friends, a pastor, "that your own seems utterly puny by 
comparison. At first his very presence becomes a judgment against 
you. You begin to discredit your own activities and to become 
resentful with him for creating your discontent. Of course the 
discontent is our problem, not his.. . . His faith is always out in the 
open. He may ask you to pray with him in a place and situation you 
would never consider appropriate. Then you deal with the fact that 
your own religion is held in such privacy compared with his. You 
are forced to consider your reason for it that faith is a very personal 
matter and to placard it is to desecrate it. Then self judgment can 
start again.. . . His making us uncomfortable is probably a service. 
The sobering reality is that all these qualities in him that generate 
my discomfort are the very ones responsible for his astonishing 
accomplishments. Thousands see because of this man's intensity, 
single-mindedness and simple, direct faith. Praise be to God who 
uses us all in his own way!" 

Even Victor's children, much as they loved and welcomed his 
presence, sometimes found his zeal disrupting. "When he comes 
to our house," confessed Barbara, "he almost turns it upside 
down. He has his plan and never comes without something 
specific to do. He has something to say to everybody, phones 
frequently, looking for new contacts, new ways of approaching 
people with the challenge. He turns other people's schedules 
inside out, and that's as it should be. It's his great strength, and I 
love him for it, but it's not always so easy to live with." 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


245 


Single-minded he was, yes, but he could expend the same zeal 
and enthusiasm in activities as unrelated to his central purpose as 
his love of jigging, and the same unswerving determination in 
pursuing his objective. Very early one Saturday morning in March 
he called Jennings Birch, Raleigh's son. "How would you like to go 
with me to the Penn Relays?" he asked. Rousing himself from 
sleep, Jennings agreed. Of course he would love to go. He picked 
up Victor in a car, and they drove to the stadium. The waiting line 
for tickets stretched for a block along the street. To Jennings's 
surprise, Victor led them straight up the line to the ticket window. 
With Jennings gaping in amazement, Victor talked to the ticket 
seller. 

"Remember me? I was here last year." 

"Oh, yes—yes, of course. I remember you." 

There were no good tickets left, but such as they were, Victor 
bought a couple. They entered the gate to find their seats, and, 
sure enough, they were not good, far in the back where binoculars 
were needed to see the action. Victor spotted another acquaint¬ 
ance. It happened to be one of the ushers. "Look at these tickets we 
have," he said. "They're really pretty poor. You know I'm an 
alumnus here. Couldn't you find us something else?" After a short 
time the friend managed to get them much better seats in a higher 
price range. 

"I never saw anybody enjoy a meet the way he did," Jennings 
would remember. "He was always cheering, usually for the last 
man, out of his seat and crying boisterously, 'Look at him go! Even 
though he's out of the race, he's not giving up!'" 

Nor did Victor, it seemed, when he really wanted something. 

One of the things he wanted most during these more recent 
years was to prevent the moving of Wills Eye Hospital and its 
merging with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. For a half 
century he had seen this great, independent institution, founded 
in 1832 by the Quaker James Wills, send skilled ophthalmologists 
all over the world and develop ophthalmologic techniques that no 
general hospital could ever attempt. He had sent his students there 
for training, had used its facilities in a hundred ways. Victor de¬ 
plored the merger and fought it with every means at his command: 
he made speeches and wrote letters to senators, congressmen, 
heads of medical societies—even to the president of the United 
States. Let the fine old institution, now certified as a historic 
building, become an international eye hospital, he begged. Make it 
a place in which ophthalmologists and ophthalmologic nurses 
could be given the best possible training as well as the incentive to 
go into all parts of the world where there was unmet need and, in 



246 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


cooperation with the health departments of the various nations, 
open the eyes of hundreds of thousands more of the curable blind. 

"In Philadelphia there is an old and famous hospital, first in the 
western hemisphere, which might be transformed into such a 
training center, with outreach by jet helicopter to reach any curable 
blind person within a matter of four days, anywhere. 

"In what better way could the American people express their 
concern for the welfare of a large number of their fellow men in 
certain neglected parts of the world than by enabling in this way 
many of the curable blind to see?" 

In the midst of frustrations, there were personal rewards for his 
long commitment and service. 

Back in the early 1970s a good friend, Carolyn Weeder, a pupil of 
the American sculptor Beatrice Fenton, had started to make a bust 
of Victor. She had shown it to her teacher, who was not happy with 
it. Beatrice Fenton had started the work again, with Victor giving 
her several sittings. She executed it first in plastic clay. It was much 
too sober to suit Victor. 

"Can't you put a little pleasure into it? he asked. 

She did. In the finished cast there was whimsy in the eyes, a 
smile just beginning to curl the lips. The first molding went to the 
University of Pennsylvania Medical School and was placed in the 
Alumni Hall. The second was dedicated in October 1975 in an 
impressive ceremony at Wichita State University, of which Fair- 
mount College had become a part, to be placed eventually in a new 
building planned to house the university's branch of the Univer¬ 
sity of Kansas School of Medicine. A plaque affixed to the pedestal, 
Victor hoped, would challenge other students to follow in his 
footsteps. 

VICTOR CLOUGH RAMBO 

Foreign missionary, ophthalmologist, 
teacher, researcher 

His great joy has been to tell of Jesus Christ and heal 
thousands of blind, to inspire others to do so also, to tell the 
world that most blindness is curable but uncured in India and 
other developing countries, and to challenge you, whoever 
you are, to do your part to give sight to some of the millions of 
needlessly blind people 

The following year in February, the portrait painted by Sobha 
Singh was unveiled in the Pennsylvania hospital. 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


247 


Honors these, both of them, yet for Victor disappointments. For 
in the years that followed, not a single student approached him 
with questions about how he could respond to the challenge. 

Like most outstanding personalities, Victor was a complex mix¬ 
ture of strong traits, some in apparent contradiction to each other. 
Take, for instance, humility and egotism. Constantly disclaiming 
his own powers of achievement, giving all credit to the divine 
Spirit working in him, nevertheless his very insistence of the 
primacy of his one great concern was in itself a form of egotism. He 
found it difficult to remain quiet in a group and listen to others who 
might feel their concerns to be of equal importance. 

"Dad always wants to be in the limelight," commented his son 
Birch, "and I suppose this reveals our own lack of humility." 

It was Louise who had quoted about him, only half jokingly, "I 
think he would like to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse 
at every funeral." Victor himself agreed that that was so. Some¬ 
times this urge found expression in action bordering on the ab¬ 
surd. 

In the summer of 1975, the Raleigh Birches had a picnic in their 
yard honoring Dr. Benjamin Chen, who was touring the country, 
raising funds for the education of refugee children in Hong Kong. 
The Rambos and many others were invited. As the guests were 
seated around the pond listening to Dr. Chen tell his story, looking 
at the pictures of his beautiful wife and children, Victor disap¬ 
peared. Then suddenly he came bounding down from the house, 
galloping like a twelve-year-old, wearing a horrendous rubber 
mask and cowboy hat that the Birches' son Robbie had left hanging 
on his bedpost. Of course everybody laughed, greatly amused, 
and the mood of serious conversation centered on the guest of 
honor was broken—only momentarily, of course. Everybody ap¬ 
preciated the diversion. 

Was his eagerness to make the acquaintance of distinguished 
personages wholly prompted by a desire to enlist their support for 
the work he considered of prime importance? When Queen 
Elizabeth and Prince Philip came to Philadelphia in honor of the 
Bicentennial in 1976 and Victor stood in the receiving line, certainly 
the gold Kaiser-I-Hind medal he wore with pardonable pride gave 
him an opportunity to tell them at some length of the needs of 
India's blind, arousing their deep concern for this problem in a 
remote part of the Commonwealth. Yet if the wearing of the 
emblem was partly a bid for personal attention, it was the only 
occasion in his life when he had ever worn it; and two years later he 
was writing to the British embassy in Washington, deploring his 



248 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


hoarding of two ounces of gold in the face of Britain's economic 
crisis and offering to send it back as a contribution to the British 
gold reserve. 

Victor and Louise returned to India in 1976. An invitation to 
attend the fiftieth anniversary of the Christian Medical Association 
of India and the Rambo Committee's need for firsthand informa¬ 
tion about the projects made the trip a must. It was like the reliving 
of a half century. 

Flying to India on October 4, they spent four days in Delhi 
attending the meetings of the association, with more than six 
hundred medical, nursing, and paramedical professionals attend¬ 
ing. Victor had participated in the founding of the organization, 
when its membership was largely missionary. Now, fifty years 
later, most of its leadership consisted of highly trained Indian 
doctors, nurses and administrators, all coming together in fellow¬ 
ship as followers of the Great Physician. Its program covered a 
wide variety of areas, including the training of nurses and techni¬ 
cians and a new community health and family planning project. 
The four days were another golden jubilee for Victor. 

From there they went to Ambala, where Dr. Raj Sukhnandan, 
son of Dayal, and his wife. Dr. Rosa, conducted a surgical program. 
Victor helped dedicate a new Eye and ENT clinic given by the 
Christoffel Blindenmission. For five days in Ludhiana they 
enjoyed reunion with old friends, the Mookerjee family, Arin 
Chatterjee, and Banarsi Dass. They made a quick trip to Andretta, 
hoping to see Sobha Singh, but he had gone to Chamba, so they 
could only leave a note for him. 

At Palampur near Andretta, where so many eye camps had been 
held, a young woman came to Victor, eyes alight through her 
glasses. She was perhaps in her early twenties. 

"You don't recognize me?" she asked. 

"No, I'm afraid I don't." 

"Nine years ago I was blind. As a child I had always been blind. I 
came to you and you gave me sight. I went to school, finished 
grade school, went on to high school. I had teacher's training. Now 
I am teaching in a village school, here at Palampur, in the foothills. 
You gave me new life." 

On to Mungeli they went. The hospital there had no car, so Raj 
Sukhnandan had arranged for one from his clinic to meet them at 
the Bilaspur station. How often they had traveled those thirty-plus 
miles and with what a variety of conveyances—bicycle, ox cart, 
Josepha Franklin's Ford, the mission's carryall. Their old home. 
Bungalow No. 2, was now a guest house; with their friend and 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


249 


helper Phulbai as caretaker, it was like coming home. All else was 
disappointing, however. Since the retirement and death of Dayal 
Sukhnandan, the work had deteriorated. Eye work had become 
almost nonexistent. This was the nadir of their journey into the 
past. 

Yet these were the only discouraging days of their trip. At 
Padhar they saw Victor Choudhrie acting as chief surgeon in a 
hospital supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Mission. At Vel¬ 
lore Victor and Anna Thomas, his former student, now head of the 
eye department, broke ground for a new eye hospital to replace old 
Schell. And perhaps the high point of their trip was a visit to John 
Coapullai's hospital at Sompeta. 

They almost missed this crowning satisfaction of their journey. 
At first it seemed impossible to get space on the Howrah mail to 
travel to this far northeastern corner of Andhra Pradesh on the Bay 
of Bengal. Then the American consul in Madras, Kenneth Scott, Jr., 
son of Dr. K. M. Scott who had been director at Ludhiana for ten 
years, secured the reservations. John and his doctor wife met them 
in Vizianagram and drove them to a mobile eye hospital at 
Shreeramnagar, sponsored by the local Lions Club. Victor saw 
beautiful arrangements, splendid cooperation, and excellent sur¬ 
gery. A total of 224 cataract operations had been done and the 
patients were about to be discharged, all perfect, with no complica¬ 
tions. The Lions Club was enthusiastic about the skill and spirit of 
the Coapullais and their team and planned for a repeat perform¬ 
ance in the spring. Never had Victor seen cleaner or more beautiful 
surgery, 224 cases without a single flat chamber, any sort of delay in 
healing, iris prolapse, or other difficulty. With the team the Rambos 
drove the 100 miles to the base hospital at Sompeta. 

Here at the Arogyavaram Hospital Victor saw some of the finest 
fruition of his teaching labor. Had his fifty years of service resulted 
only in the work of this skilled and dedicated doctor, they would 
have been worthwhile. And this was the man whose hands, awk¬ 
ward and improperly balanced, Victor had once held, guiding 
them through the first operations. Dr. John and his wife, Ammu, 
had come to Sompeta in the 1950s with their twin sons, Prem, 
meaning "love," and Shanth, meaning "peace." The hospital, 
founded and supported by the Canadian Baptist Foreign Mission 
Board, grew rapidly after his coming. Because of his skills in 
ophthalmologic surgery, it had become a specialized eye hospital, 
and the Canadian mission supporting it had merged into Opera¬ 
tion Eyesight Universal. John had taken graduate training in 
Europe; Ammu, after raising the twins, had gone to Vellore for 
training in ophthalmology. Together they had become a team that 




250 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


Victor called "incredibly beautiful." Eye camps had been started in 
1964, hundreds, sometimes thousands of patients coming to a 
single camp. In their years together John and Ammu had done one 
hundred thousand eye operations, 99 percent of them for cataract. 

In Delhi again, they visited with Dr. Mary Mathew, professor 
and head of the eye department of the Lady Hardinge Medical 
College and Hospital, who had also been a student of Victor's at 
Ludhiana. Her team had recently done three eye camps in the Kulu 
Valley, and she was now conducting one on the outskirts of Delhi. 
The Rambos flew back to America on November 9, after a little 
more than a month of travel. A month had been such a short time 
for the reliving of fifty years. 

Retirement? Hardly. During these five years Victor had merely 
transferred most of his constant activity from one country to 
another. He traveled almost incessantly, speaking, attending 
conferences, and collecting for the Rambo Committee contribu¬ 
tions not only of money but also of glasses and fine optical instru¬ 
ments. 

One day in June 1976, he traveled to Pittsburgh to visit another 
ophthalmologist who was retiring. They had met many years ago. 
Now he was closing his practice and donating his instruments to 
Victor for shipping overseas. 

"Want to help me?" Victor phoned his friend Dwight French, the 
regional minister for the Christian church in Pennsylvania. Later in 
the day French went with Victor to help him pack the instruments 
for shipment. He found being with the two aging doctors an 
unusual experience. Each instrument was treated with the utmost 
care as it was opened and described. The Pittsburgh doctor ex¬ 
plained what it was for, where he had obtained it, and in some 
instances the special procedures he had developed for its use. For 
more than an hour Mr. French watched w T ith fascination as the two 
men discussed their long years of experience. Listening, he 
thought about what precise skill and care had characterized their 
active years and how many thousands of persons had had their 
sight saved or restored by their efforts. 

When the packing was finished and the instruments had been 
placed in the minister's car, Victor led the three of them in a prayer 
of thanks for the instruments, the doctor who had donated them, 
and the doctors who would be using them. The next morning Mr. 
French received another call from Victor. A business man had 
heard about Victor's being in town and why, and he had offered the 
use of his private plane to take the instruments back to Philadel¬ 
phia. It was waiting for him at the airport. Would Dwight drive 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


251 


Victor there? Of course. The ride was exciting. Victor was oven 
joyed at all that had happened and the way God had blessed his 
efforts. 

There were many such "wondhaps" during these years. Because 
of increased income, the Rambo Committee was able in 1977 to 
assume support of a new worker. Dr. Ezekiel Abanishe, who was 
building a new center called the Good Samaritan Hospital in 
Nigeria. Having declined a good position in a Pennsylvania hospi¬ 
tal, he was remaining true to his original plan to minister to his 
people and witness to his faith. The hospital would include a 
Rambo Eye Clinic. Several ophthalmologists and other doctors 
were agreeing to spend two months of service at this new hospital. 
Complete eye clinic equipment was shipped. A year later the new 
hospital was reporting a staff of thirty, one hundred fifty patients 
daily at three locations, and not one fatality in the year. 

Another shipment of delicate instruments was sent to an eye 
surgeon, Dr. Martha Snearly, for a Baptist clinic at Koumra, Chad. 

In Zaire, Dr. Birch Rambo and his associate ophthalmologist. 
Dr. Shannon, were treating hundreds of patients each week. Dr. 
Shannon was the only eye doctor for an area of five million people. 
In 1978 the income of the committee, including donations of medi¬ 
cal equipment, pharmaceuticals, and glasses, had risen substan¬ 
tially. The directors, under Dr. Brenner's leadership, were actively 
participating in the program. 

In India there were hospitals in Ludhiana, Vellore, Mungeli, and 
Sompeta; in Africa they were in Nigeria, Zaire, and Chad. Yet there 
were still eighteen million blind persons in Asia and Africa, 75 
percent of whom were curable. It was not hundreds of thousands 
of dollars but millions that were needed. 

An impossible dream, perhaps, but Victor was constantly in 
pursuit of it. The year 1977 was one of comings and goings, when 
he spent three weeks in Europe, attending the annual ophthal- 
mological congress in Oxford, then visiting eye hospitals and 
friends in England, Scotland, Holland, Germany, and Switzer¬ 
land. 

As usual on such trips, Victor not only enjoyed fellowship with 
old friends in the professional field but also established bonds of 
mutual interest in many chance encounters. It was in London that 
he traveled from the underground in Piccadilly to Heathrow 
Chapel with an Indian taxi driver. 

"Your name, brother?" he inquired. 

"Ravinder Singh Gareha," was the response. 

"I, too, am from India," Victor told him. "I was an eye doctor at 
the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Ludhiana." 



252 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


The man's eyes opened wide. "I was there!" he exclaimed, face 
beaming. "I had a bad motorcycle accident, and a doctor sewed up 
my forehead all around the eye. It was in the eye department. Was 
it you?" 

"It could have been, brother. God be praised!" He took the man's 
address in Hounslow, London, and, of course, prayed with him. 

Victor was at Oxford when news came of a "going" that took all 
the color and spirit of adventure out of his journey, the sudden 
death of Alice, Helen's and Wesley's only daughter. A first-year 
medical student, she had been at home for the holiday weekend in 
Marissa when a heart defect, not previously apparent, had taken 
her in her sleep. She had been training in medicine to go to Zaire to 
help Birch in his work. It was the second family tragedy. Four years 
before, her brother Victor, his grandfather's namesake, had died 
suddenly of the same cause. 

Unable to return for the funeral, Victor phoned directly from 
Oxford. Birch and Peggy received the news as they were leaving 
Geneva for Zaire, and they were able to phone Marissa on their 
arrival in Kinshasa. So the family was bound together in its sorrow 
in spite of geographical separation. 

"We thank God for Alice's twenty-two years," Victor and Louise 
were able to write in their annual letter, "for her happily dedicated 
life. We thank Him, too, for so gently transporting her into the 
unimaginable beauty and joy of heaven for which this world is just 
the preliminary." 

If only I could have gone instead! thought Victor. 

In June 1978 both Victor and Louise were in Florida, attending a 
Christian ophthalmological meeting at Key Biscayne, where Victor 
was an evening speaker. In July he was again in England, attending 
the Oxford Assembly of the International Agency for the Preven¬ 
tion of Blindness. September saw him at the meeting of the Ameri¬ 
can College of Surgeons in San Francisco and at the American 
Academy of Ophthalmology in Kansas City. But these were merely 
the broad strokes of the brush, highlighting the finer details of his 
goings and comings; Louise, who usually stayed at home, pa¬ 
tiently and skillfully drew their design. The area directors, like Dr. 
James Henderson, soon found that it was better to make ar¬ 
rangements through Louise. 

"People in North Carolina," Dr. Henderson wrote her one 
March, "are becoming excited about the work that you and Dr. 
Rambo began in India. We have shown the film or slides twelve 
times since January 1. I believe your visit will give us the needed 
boost to really get people involved in our work. Have we made too 
many appointments for you? What about Saturday, May 22? 



APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


253 


Would you need to rest this day or to share with some church?" 
Yes, rest, replied Louise. If she had not protected Victor, he would 
have filled every hour of every day with a meeting, a visit to a 
hospital, an interview with some influential party, or a personal 
visit of some other kind. 

As it was, he did fill almost every hour of every day with some 
kind of visit. He was equally concerned with every person he met, 
no matter when or where, and could pray as easily and earnestly 
on the streets of Philadelphia as he could on the dusty paths of 
India. Every friend or stranger he encountered, sat beside, wrote 
to, or called on the telpehone became an opportunity for Christian 
concern and witness. Even someone's phoning him by accident 
was turned to advantage. 

"Hello. I am Dr. Rambo." 

A child's voice. "Is Suzie there?" 

"No, I am Dr. Rambo, a missionary for Jesus for many years in 
India. Do you know about Jesus?" 

"Yes, I know about Jesus." 

"So we can praise Jesus together?" 

"Yes, sure we can." 

After a little prayer, "Try to learn more about Jesus and be more 
like Him." 

"OK. Good-bye." 

"Good-bye." 

Sometimes it was Victor who dialed the wrong number. 

"Is thisT. J.?" 

"No, it isn't. You have the wrong number." The voice was cross 
and rasping. 

"So sorry, sir. Please forgive me." 

"Forgive you? My wife is ill." Bang went the receiver. 

Victor looked at his number once more. He dialed again, made 
the same mistake, and the same gruff voice was back. "What do 
you mean, dialing me again. I really do have a sick wife, and you 
trouble me with two wrong number calls!" 

"May I pray for healing for your wife and relief of her discom¬ 
fort?" Without waiting for a reply, Victor proceeded: "Lord God, I 
pray in Jesus' name for the healing of this woman who is ill. I pray 
that there may be healing and blessing. Lord." 

He heard the other voice calling, "Darling, a man called here, the 
wrong number, and he prayed for you to get well in Jesus's name." 
The voice was no longer gruff but full of wonderment, calm and 
relieved. 

Victor heard the receiver placed quietly down. "Thank You, 
God," he said, "for giving me the wrong number." 



254 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 


For many years, people had been telling Victor that a book 
should be written about his life and work. Victor had definite ideas 
about what such a book should or should not be. "A book that just 
leaves me shining and the curable blind just sitting there uncured 
and the reader Thrilled' with my devotion and not stimulated to do 
anything, to give anything! No! How awful!" 

Complicated, he is indeed. Anyone trying to describe Victor 
Rambo is like the blind man attempting by the touch of one distinc¬ 
tive feature to describe an elephant. How does one depict fairly all 
the many facets of such a contradictory personality—indeed, of 
two personalities so diverse yet complementary; for without 
Louise, his "balance wheel," Victor might well have been a human 
dynamo expending its vast energy without control, hence either 
burning itself out prematurely or getting constantly in need of 
repair. 

Perhaps the tribute paid to both of them by Barbara in her 
anniversary letter sums up Victor's and Louise's lives better than 
any author possibly could: 

"I thank God for you, Mother, and for your fantastic gift of 
bringing order and care into new and sometimes chaotic circum¬ 
stances. The modern mobile generation is far behind you in learn¬ 
ing to adjust creatively to always changing circumstances and 
times. Your prayerful love, your wise insights, your graciousness, 
your regular letters, your demand for integrity in all things—all 
these are the foundation stones of our family. 

"I thank God for you. Dad. You are a priest—you make every 
place holy and every contact an occasion of knowing God's pres¬ 
ence. You are a prophet—your intuitive insights have turned out 
to be true so frequently that it is painful. You are an example to me 
of what it means to do whatever needs to be done, whether an eye 
opened or dishes washed, with passionate single-mindedness for 
Christ, not with moroseness but with song and dance. You are also 
a clown—bringing mirth, surprise, joy, turning 'No's' into 'Yes's,' 
giving new possibilities. Also like the great classic clowns you 
express the great sadness of life that at times comes to everyone. 
Yet you turn that into joy in Christ. You are the picture of what it 
means to live the triumphantly fulfilled life. 

"I pray that you will go on doing just what you have been doing, 
creating order in a world burdened with chaos, being a prophet 
and a priest and a holy troubadour and jigging jester for the King, 
ushering everyone you meet into His presence wherever they are 
and introducing them to new possibilities in their lives." 



A Note from 
Dr. Rambo 


L ooking back from the midpoint of my ninth decade, I am grate- 
j ful that God has permitted and enabled me to serve Him in 
the restoring of sight to the curable blind of India. I am grateful for 
the joy I have had through the years in this service and in the 
working with many—friends, colleagues, and teammates. It has 
always been a team effort, including many in America who have 
helped through their prayers and gifts, as well as ophthalmologists 
who came as volunteers to our clinics and mobile eye hospitals. 
Those volunteers gave generously of their time and skill and, we 
believe, found the experience of ophthalmologic service in India 
worthwhile. 

At this time I am deeply concerned that the work of restoring 
sight for the needy blind of the world shall continue. There are 
millions who could see again if we reached them with the God- 
given science of ophthalmology. Years ago many young people 
were alerted to the need for missionaries and challenged to serve 
by the pledge of the Student Volunteer Movement. Today the same 
challenge is presented to students of other, similar, groups—to 
accept fully the call to carry the gospel of Christ "into all the 
world." 

The need is as great as ever, and opportunities are wide open. 
There are jobs for all. I am particularly interested in the call for 
ophthalmologists, ophthalmologic nurses and technicians, and 
opticians to serve in Christian eye hospitals and mobile units. 

God still calls men and women to service that may be difficult, 
even dangerous, but a service that brings the spiritual reward of 
joy beyond anything the secular world can offer. "I tell you the 
truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of 
mine, you did for me" (Matt.25:40, NIV). 

For more information about opportunities for ophthalmologic 
missionary service, contact the Rambo Committee, Inc.: Box 4288, 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19144. 


Victor C Rambo 


% 















DOROTHY CLARKE WILSON, the daugh- 
ter of a Baptist preacher and wife of a Methodist 
minister, has authored 12 biographies, 6 novels, 
70 religious plays and 2 juveniles to date! Among 
her bestselling biographies have been Ten Fin¬ 
gers of God . Dr. Ida . Granny Brand and Lone 
Woman . Her novels include Prince of Eqypt, 
which was used as resource material for the film 
"The Ten Commandments." 

Mrs. Wilson's books have also been published in 
Europe. Scandinavia and Asia. As a result of 4 
trips to India and others to Palestine. Egypt and 
England, she has given almost 900 illustrated 
lectures to various groups telling the story of her 
books. When she is not traveling the world to 
research a story, Mrs. Wilson lives in Orono. 
Maine. 


JACKET DESIGN: DOMINICK CIRRI 

ISBN 0-915684-54-3 
LC 79-55678 


CHRISTIAN HERALD BOOKS 
40 Overlook Drive 
Chappaqua. New York 10514 


Pnnted in USA. 










Books-Histojy/Pol 


APOSTLE OF SIGHT 

The story of Victor Rambo, 
surgeon to India’s blind 


o A book for anyone interested in the problems 
and rewards of missionary life. 

o A book for anyone who wants to gain insight 
into the land and the people of India. 

o A book that is thrilling, true history — 
inspirational and thoroughly enjoyable. 

A main selection of Family Bookshelf book club 



“Readers will follow the 
career of Dr. Rambo with 
admiration, sometimes 
amazement, always with 
reverence. Recommended 
for mature readers as a 
i inspirational volume." 

— Gladys Taber, author 
of the Stillmeadow series; 
former Editor of 
Ladies Home Journal 


^ CO 



Victor Rambo, M.D. 


$1.99 


DOROTHY CLARKE WILSON